Learning From Dementialand (A Visit From A Guest Blogger)

Recently I was contacted by a former student and current friend, Michelle Remold, who inquired as to whether or not she could submit a guest blog post for Dementialand. To give you a bit of background on Michelle, I must started by telling you that she was one of my first Gerontology majors when I took over leadership of the Gerontology program at our university.

At that point in time, the program had about half the number of majors that it does now, and I taught more courses than I do currently (my job has changed a bit over past several years and now includes more outreach and administrative work). Back in those days, an upperclassman in the Gerontology program likely had me for two to three classes a semester and had me as advisor. I also worked with my students out in the community, took them to conferences, and supervised all Gerontology internships (which are all things I still do). Let me just say I feel fortunate that Michelle is still talking to me after being forced to spend so many hours in my presence. 

When Michelle was in my program, I was still learning about coordinating a major and overseeing students. I was motivated, caring, and passionate about teaching, advising, dementia care, and pretty much everything else related to my career….but I constantly second guessed myself. In fact, I was so nervous that I was going to neglect to tell one of my Gerontology students to take a class that they needed to graduate that I regularly took their advising files home and reviewed them for hours late at night.

I remember Michelle telling me once, in the nicest way possible, that I was part advisor and part stalker. However, I was secretly proud when I took my Gerontology majors to a conference and they said that I would have “killed them” if they had answered their cell phone during a presentation like a student from another university had. I was even prouder that I sent an email to them with the subject line “What Not to Wear to a Conference” and they showed up not wearing all the things I suggested they not wear. (This was after the previous conference when I spent the whole afternoon deciding if I should loan a student who had worn a tiny halter top and short shorts my dowdy sweater. To be fair, she had no idea what to wear to a conference on end-of-life care. I had never given her any instruction.)

When I read Michelle’s guest blog post, I found irony in the topic. When she was a student in the earlier days of the Gerontology program, she was both a teacher and a learner–as was I. I tried to hide how much I still had to learn in those days. I think I did a pretty good job convincing those students that I knew what I was doing, but in reality we were learning (and teaching) together. And I learn as well as teach whenever I set foot in Dementialand.

Here is Michelle’s post:

I want to start by thanking Elaine for letting me write a post for her blog.

I recently read a quote and since I had already inquired about writing a guest blog with an idea in mind, it seemed to fit perfectly. The quote by Bishop T.D. Jake stated, “The world is a university and everyone in it is a teacher.”  This is especially true about Dementialand, except that Dementialand is the teacher.

I am currently working on my master’s degree and big part of that is role playing and critiquing ourselves on how we handle a variety of situations.  For myself, I know I am going to work with older adults and ultimately want to work with families of people who have a dementia, so role play situations without that component are hard for me to really get into because the practicality of me using it isn’t there.  The coursework I have taken was and is geared toward preparing me to help older adults find services, what different diseases look like, and how to be empathetic in having discussions with families.  However, no class could fully prepare me for what it is really like learning from Dementialand.

Let me back up.

I am not new to Dementialand and probably know more about Dementialand than most people my age.  I was introduced to Dementialand when I was six and have been there twice personally and numerous times as a student and as a professional.  By the time I graduated from high school, Dementialand had taught me about compassion, empathy, patience, and most of all how to live in the moment and not take it for granted.  Throughout college, Dementialand taught me more about the different ways dementia looks, family dynamics, how to give presentations on dementia, and how to sit with a family and really talk through the experience and reality of being in Dementialand.  This is stuff I didn’t learn from courses I was taking, but rather my own interactions and experiences. What I have learned is that there is no “typical” day in Dementialand and being able to adapt to what Dementialand throws at you is important.  That is easier said than done.

While working on my bachelor’s degree, I trained a group of students to visit dementia care communities with me and present a memory program.  I ran through scenarios with them and gave them examples of what to do if things went off track. However, when it came time for our first presentation of the program, they stood against the wall in shock while I interacted with those in attendance.  What I had failed to do is give them an accurate description of what Dementialand is really like. I had forgotten to prepare them for the sounds, sights, smells, and touch of Dementialand.

I’m not even sure that I could have truly given them the description they needed of Dementialand because it varies day to day, place to place, and person to person.  Since I have been in memory care communities since a young age, there isn’t a whole lot Dementialand can throw at me that would surprise me, but that isn’t the case with everyone.  People are always shocked at my reaction if someone comes up and starts petting my head (I am a redhead, which usually attracts attention) or gives me a kiss on the cheek.  They look at me quizzically and usually ask why I am unfazed.  Truthfully, at one point it really bothered me, but as time went on I got used to it.

While coursework provides me with the basic knowledge I will need to be successful in my field, Dementialand has been my true instructor in learning all I can about dementia.  What can be learned from Dementialand is astounding, but I have also come to realize that I need to be open to learning the lessons Dementialand has to offer.  After all, you can never learn too much.

If I have other alumni who are interested in contributing a guest blog post to Dementialand, they should follow the same highly professional procedure that Michelle did to inquire about submission…. In other words, text me.

2 thoughts on “Learning From Dementialand (A Visit From A Guest Blogger)

  1. Thanks Michelle, and thanks Elaine for posting this. It feels so good to me, as a full time caregiver, to know that people are out there studying this situation and training to work with people like me and my spouse, both.
    In fact, it nearly brings me to tears – much of the time I am so isolated in the sheer daily-ness of the life, but when I have encountered a “professional” – counselor, intake person at a facility, respite care worker, etc – it is so incredibly helpful and comforting.
    Keep up the good work, you guys!!

    Liked by 3 people

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