Create More Than Jewelry
by Leslie Fuller, MSW,
PAC Certified Independent Trainer
My first experience in senior living was working for an independent living community with over 300 residents. I was instantly charmed with their stories, their advice, and the joy I found in helping them maneuver their new chapter of life. At the time, I was an avid jewelry maker, and started a weekly class teaching them technique and design. I looked forward to it each week as it was an artistic break from my other duties, and I was having fun with new friends.
After two years of teaching the class, I was promoted to my new role as an executive director of one of the company’s Alzheimers and dementia care communities. When I started, I thought about my jewelry making, and wondered, "Can these new residents who all have dementia even do this?” How silly was I.
My first class was definitely not ideal. We ended up with beads all over the floor, but not due to their changing abilities. More due to my lack of understanding of how to partner with them, for them to be successful. The next class, I shifted the environment to be more functional and gave each jewelry maker a small dish towel to lay in front of them to help keep supplies on the table, in their own personal space. The shift worked!
I celebrated that success and continued to consider how to create an even more supportive environment. I went on to contact two of my friends from the independent living community, who were in their mid-80s at the time, and asked if they would like to come join us for a class. They both came over not knowing quite what to expect. Neither had ever spent time in this type of community that was supporting specialized care. They were both so supportive and helpful to the residents, and after the first class asked if they could come back again. The relationships formed by all were very meaningful.
The independent living residents continued to join us monthly for two years, until I left to accept a new position. They told me many times that those trips meant so much to them, and how they looked forward to seeing their little ladies and laughing with them. Not only were friendships developed, but everyone gained skills over the two years. The people being supported saw improved dexterity and became skilled at creating new patterns.
Another great plus of this event was for the staff to see a leader from the community genuinely teaching, laughing, and engaging with the residents as their friend. It opened up their eyes to being more of a partner with them rather than just a caregiver. They saw me as a care partner. I still wear a pair of earrings created by one of the supported residents which was made for an Alzheimer’s Association fundraiser. That sale was a great moment of pride for everyone.
So much was gained through that class. So much more than just an arts and crafts slot on the calendar. When you seek meaningful engagement, all benefit. Mindfully creating an environment that has the right surfaces, social, functional, and friendly elements really contributes to fun, joy, and fulfillment for all.
Leslie Fuller, MSW, has been a dementia care professional for the past six years. She was an Executive Director of a Brookdale Alzheimers and dementia care community for two and a half years and then became a company dementia care specialist supporting communities across 13 states. In 2019, she became a PAC Certified Independent Trainer, whose mission is, using our talents and abilities to develop awareness, knowledge, and skill with all people, that will transform what exists into a more positive dementia care culture. Changing Dementia Care One Mind at a Time.