Today I had the privilege of volunteering at both of the Alzheimer’s Day Services (ADS) of Memphis day centers doing pet therapy with one of my dogs! Upon arrival at their Dorothy’s Place day center, I was greeted by Development Director, Jon Burchfield. Jon and the whole ADS staff all seem so genuinely invested in creating an environment for those they serve that is both comfortable and engaging; a place where family members can know that their loved ones are being treated with dignity and respect and also alleviates the stress of full-time caregiving. A variety of activities and exercises are thoughtfully structured throughout the day that help maintain fine and gross motor coordination, physical fitness as well as cognitive functioning. Jon explained to me that these exercises can help lengthen the amount of time before more severe effects of Alzheimer’s set-in.
After Jon gave me a brief orientation of ADS, Cashew (my 85 lb. lab mix who’s a big teddy bear) and I went to go meet our new friends. They were in the middle of an activity called “Music Memories” – a time for listening to and singing along with songs that I presume were popular during their youth. Some leaned back in their chairs with their eyes closed enjoying the music while others sang along word for word from their song books. Cashew and I walked around visiting. Some people were a little apprehensive of Cashew at first while others smiled and put their hands out to pet him. Initially Cashew was a little nervous surrounded by so many new people. After a while though both Cashew and our new friends realized neither party were liable to be harmful and enjoyed each other’s company. For a little entertainment Cashew and I danced to the music as he jumped on command to be my dancing partner.
Afterwards we headed to the Grashot center where we found our new friends playing bingo. Cashew had warmed up to the idea of meeting a bunch of new people by the time we got there and was happy to gently approach people while they played. Some shrieked with excitement when Cashew entered the room and couldn’t get enough of him. One woman I think would have been content to have pet him for hours and Cashew gladly obliged. In the end, Cashew had people waiting to interact with him, reaching out their hands, signaling for him to come receive their love.
As we made the rounds it was so gratifying to see how much happiness a dog can bring. Dogs don’t see Alzheimer’s, disabilities, or illnesses – just people who are willing to pet them and in return provide kisses, affection, and care. It was such a joy for me that my big, sweet dog was able to be a small part of the terrific services that the ADS centers provide on a daily basis. I hope Cashew was able to bring something special to our new friends’ day.
El resumen en español:
Hoy mi perro y yo tuvimos el placer de ir a dos centros diurnos de Alzheimer Day Services (ADS) de Memphis para ser parte de su programa de terapia de mascotas. En este lugar tan lindo las personas con Alzheimer’s pueden ir a pasar al día participando en actividades estructuradas con mucho propósito. A través de las actividades ellos tienen la oportunidad de mantener sus habilidades cognitivas y desarrollar su forma física. Es un gran alivio para la familia de los que van al centro saber que además de que hay actividades todo el día, también sus seres queridos serán tratados con cariño, dignidad y respeto.
En el primer centro mi perro, que se llama Cashew, y yo estuvimos visitando con la gente mientras que ellos estaban escuchando y cantando canciones de su juventud. En el segundo centro, la gente estaba jugando bingo.
En cada lugar Cashew fue una fuente de gozo. Fue impresionante de ver como un perro puede traer tanta felicidad a las personas. En fin, los perros no ven enfermedades, Alzhéimer’s ni discapacidades. Solo ven a humanos dispuestos a darles cariño y en retorno les dan besos, amistad y afecto. Que gusto fue ser parte, aunque sea pequeño, de los servicios que ASD ofrece día a día a nuestros nuevos amigos. Espero que Cashew les haya llevado algo especial a su día.