If you would have told me four years ago that I’d be dedicating my life to helping those living with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (ADRD), I would have said that sounded unlikely. And yet, somehow a college grad with big business dreams fell in love with what many consider to be a forgotten generation.
It took a perfect storm of circumstances to get me into the long-term care field. I had been working at a restaurant in the Midwest after college, not sure what I wanted out of life. My big plans of working in professional sports fell through, and I was waiting tables and trying to figure out my next move. A friend was moving to Las Vegas to work at a nursing and rehabilitation center, and asked if I wanted to be her roommate. I wasn’t doing much in my current situation, so I rolled the dice and moved out West. I figured that at the very least, I’d be able to say I lived in Vegas.
After three months of living off my savings, my friend told me about a position that opened up in her department. She worked in the activity department, and they were looking for a supervisor. Mind you, I had never worked a day in long-term care in any capacity, so I was naturally hesitant to accept this offer. She told me to just come in for a day and hang out with some of the residents. “You’re a good talker,” she said. “Just tell them some stories and listen to theirs. You’ll be fine.”
So I gave it a shot.
I can’t tell you if it happened while listening to a man tell me about watching Mickey Mantle play in person, or if it happened while sitting with a lady as she held the department’s pet rabbit, or if it happened while I was playing dominoes with a man who never came out of his room.
But it happened.
Something clicked in my head and in my heart, because since that day, I’ve been dedicated to helping improve the lives of our elders. I came back to that rehab center for the next year before moving back to the Midwest, where I continued to work more specifically with people living with ADRD.
Many of my friends asked me why I had given up on trying to work in sports or in business to “just play games with old people.” At first, I thought that was rude and offensive. These were not “old people.” These were people’s mothers, fathers, grandparents, spouses, and loved ones. Then, I realized that they had no idea what I really did. They didn’t know that I was the bright spot in someone’s day. I was someone people looked forward to seeing. There were people who counted on me every day to help make their lives better, and I don’t think I could have had that same sense of accomplishment and pride in any other occupation. I absolutely love what I did, and I’m so thankful for the circumstances that led me to some of the greatest people I have ever met.
Then I was given the opportunity to assume a different role in my ongoing mission to help people with dementia. Now I’m in a position to spread the education and awareness the world needs as we strive to create a dementia-capable society—a society filled with people of all walks of life who have the passion and the skills to make life better for everyone who’s affected by ADRD. I’m thrilled to be part of an organization whose mission falls so perfectly in line with my own.
I may not be calling bingo or making my rounds with fresh-baked cookies, but I’m doing everything in my power to make a difference in the lives of others—and to share the skills that can help you help others. I often think back to that spring day in the desert of Nevada, and how happy I was that I listened to my friend.
Eric Worley, Client Services Specialist, helps health care facilities obtain the necessary education to help those living with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (ADRD) experience joy and quality of life.