By Sophie Okolo

Picture this. It’s Monday morning. I have my checklist of the day’s activities for the memory care community. I love working with these residents because they challenge me to be a better activities professional.

As I walk through the entrance, I get a call from one of the certified nursing assistants saying that one of the residents, Mary, was just agitated but is now in her room. I immediately sigh because I feel sad Mary won’t join the activity. But I know it’s important that she remains calm for her well-being and the staff.

There Is More to Come

As I enter the community, I greet the residents but realize that one, Theresa, shrugs off my greeting. While I know dementia can affect a person’s personality and behavior, I always ask the CNAs if anything happened just in case.

The CNA confirms that Theresa’s family just left after their weekly visit, and she is not happy about it. That’s good to know because there are times when there’s no cause.

Not all days are the same when working in a memory care community. Hence, my goal is to try and find joy at any moment, even in those moments when I want to take cover and hide.

One of Many Lessons

As someone overly optimistic, I often remind myself that my work is not only about me. It’s also about the residents. So no matter what happens on any given day, I must not let go of that fact.

Taking pride in our work and in what it does to improve residents’ well-being is critical. When we realize the essence of what we do at its core, we can find joy and meaning in our work, because helping others also helps us. As my favorite movie, The Magic of Ordinary Days, says, it’s about finding magic in hard times, not just when everything is going well.

Seeing the Big Picture 

I am a creature of habit, something I take pride in. But I am learning that beyond building habits, being present in the moment is just as important. As Apple CEO Tim Cook says, “Let your joy be in your journey — not in some distant goal.”

So this morning, I continue with the activity, with a few modifications. Theresa does a separate activity — her favorite, involving looking through colorful magazines. She has severe dementia but loves beautiful magazines, which improve her mood.

I decide to put on some calming music for Mary, who is now resting calmly in her room.

With just a bit of perspective and some tweaks here and there, what started as a challenging day culminates in renewed joy in my work and engaging the residents socially and mentally. Because ultimately, that’s what truly matters.

Decide to Change Things Up

My philosophy changed that day because residents are at the core of what we do. While I still planned a daily activity schedule, I didn’t strictly stick to it. Depending on any given day, I could change the activity that brought the most comfort, from doing hand massages to having a resident wear earphones because they are agitated or baking yummy treats whose odors evoke powerful, pleasant childhood memories. Working with families to learn more about their loved ones’ favorite treats or activities was especially helpful!

In the End, It’s All Worth It

Let me ask you this, because it’s a question I asked myself often: If you were a resident, would you like to stick to one kind of activity or have the option of doing another? Would you want autonomy? If you could not have autonomy, would you want someone to have your best interests at heart?

I get it. We can make plans and remain organized for things to be smooth and efficient. But just as life throws us curve balls and we have to adjust, we need to be flexible, especially if we hope to find moments of joy in our work. And who says some change or spontaneity is the worst that can happen?

In the words of American author Greg Anderson, “Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.” Because, in the end, it will all come together in some way.

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