Volunteering at Melabev, a daycare center for people with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia
I have volunteered with all three groups at Melabev, each at different level of cognitive functioning, and each group having activities appropriately tailored to same. People who attend the program are called members and Melabev is called a club. When I was with the high functioning group, one of the members asked me, “Are you one of us?” My reaction was to say YES, because talking with them seemed no different that talking to some of my older friends at synagogue. I am at “the senior status” having gotten the senior fare without asking on the bus and I am a savta. She was interrupted by someone else asking me for a drink and before I could answer, she continued, “I mean are you a volunteer? I guess you are too young.” I told her I was a volunteer but there are members who were younger than me.
The reason I was going to say yes was because I don’t see the members as “other.” I could be one of them in the near future. They are fellow Jews, fellow people, fellow “seniors”. We are all on this continuum of aging and who knows how aging will work out for me.
The other thing that struck me was one of the volunteers thought it was very important to point out that some of the members had been lawyers and one was a physicist, another a concert musician. I actually would like to find out for myself about what they did by asking them. Note I said what they did, not who they are.
Is it any more tragic for a lawyer or a scientist to be at the end stage of this disease than for the man who sold appliances or for the many women who were homemakers? The disease robs people of what they did, but many had stopped their professions before the onset. The real tragedy is that this disease(s) eventually robs them of who they are.
One week, because of a confluence of circumstances, Melabev was running without many volunteers and with many staff members out due to sitting shiva, vacation and several unforeseen circumstances. In the room for the low functioning group, for most of the week it was just two staff members and me. The specialists came as scheduled, but in between time, we were basically taking care of food and drinks and not really having time to work one on one with any one person for more than a few minutes, just having time to distribute games or magazines and get them started. The following week, we had four staff members and 4 or 5 volunteers at any given point in the day. What a difference! Almost everybody had one-on-one time with a volunteer to play the games, work through different activities or go through the magazines and talk about the contents. What a difference!
Volunteers really enrich the experience of the members, above the already rich experience available to the members through the structured activities. Of course, the volunteers are enriched by the presence of these elders who are struggling to maintain their abilities for as long as possible. Every day I heard almost every member say how much they love coming to Melabev. Very important work being done in this place, no question.
Shabbat Shalom, Patty