Volunteering at the local Alzheimer’s Family Center | Teen Ink

Volunteering at the local Alzheimer’s Family Center

October 24, 2022
By Adam_V BRONZE, Huntington Beach, California
Adam_V BRONZE, Huntington Beach, California
3 articles 1 photo 0 comments

“Oh shoot!” I exclaimed as I dashed across the street. A black Honda Civic roared through the street, narrowly passing me. “My god…” I muttered to myself as I straightened out my clothes and tidied up my hair. I glanced back at my mother parked across the street, frozen in horror. I laughed a little, yelled that I was okay and walked around the curb towards the front entrance.

I looked through the glass doors to see an employee dressed in blue jeans and a black button-up shirt waving at me. I stepped past the doorway, and a gust of wind rushed past me as I  myself as a new volunteer to the employee. The employee, whom I came to learn was the Activities Manager, led me down the hallway to show me around. She was a tall brunette lady who was very friendly and amicable. As my Activities Manager showed me around the facility, she pointed out all the different rooms and their purposes within the care center. Some of the residents waved to me, and I smiled back as I toured the different rooms.

Finally, with a gentle pat on the back and a beaming smile, the manager left me in the hallway to begin my first day of volunteering at the local Alzheimer’s Family Center. 

Unsure of what exactly I was designated to do, I roamed around the facility, exploring the features of the activities room, dining room, exterior garden and physical therapy room. The Activities Manager had mentioned to me that other volunteers were rotating around the facility, so I decided to look for another volunteer to gain some advice. 

First, I walked to the activities room, where there was the most number of residents. There were puzzles, board games, watercolor painting tables and a TV playing old movies. I spotted a teenager playing Jenga with an older man by the table near the TV. He seemed experienced and easily made conversation with the other residents. I slowly approached this volunteer and sat myself down in the chair beside him. After fidgeting in my chair for a minute or two, he, thankfully, broke the ice and introduced himself as Kevin. We talked about how long we had been volunteering, where we went to school and how we liked the facility and the residents. I began asking him basic questions about the facility and we got to a question on how to interact with the patients. Out of the corner of his eyes, he met my gaze and told me that the goal was to provide companionship. This was a unique word to describe one of my responsibilities as a mere volunteer. As I looked around, it dawned on me that these residents were lonely. They sought companionship. Kevin proceeded to explain to me that many of the residents at the center had dementia. I had read about dementia patients before, so I had a vague idea of what the symptoms were. However, the reality of dementia hit me differently when I first-handedly experienced a personal encounter with a resident that day. 

In the corner of the room, I noticed this petite Asian lady doing a puzzle with a supervisor. The resident was a frail lady with black and grey hair who seemed to be engrossed in the activity. My supervisor, who was assisting the resident, hastily spoke into her walkie-talkie and was edging off her seat. I quickly sprung out of my chair and approached the table. I initially tapped the supervisor’s shoulder and offered to help, but after seeing her eyes blink in confusion, I showed her my volunteer badge. My supervisor laughed and apologized for her misunderstanding as she stood up leaving the chair. She gave me a quick nod right before rapidly moving out of the room. 

I sat down in the chair beside the petite Asian resident and introduced myself. She slowly turned to look at me and said hello, shaking my hand. She added that her name was Kimiko and turned back to the puzzle. After three minutes of helping her with the puzzle, I asked about her day. She was very responsive and quick to notice my question. But after hearing the question, her face was unresponsive. It was not only as if she could not hear me, but also as if she did not see me. She finally answered the question that her day was fine. I continued to pursue a conversation with her, but with each question I asked, I received a similar response of, “Say again?” accompanied preceded by a blank stare. 

I distinctly remember asking her, “Have you lived in California your entire life?” She responded that she had not and had originally lived in Hawaii on a 24-acre coffee farm run by her family. Afterward, she leaned into her chair and proceeded to ask me where my family was from. To which I responded, “Oh, we’re from Vietnam”. Her face broke into a smile and exclaimed, “Oh! Vietnam!” as she mentioned that her husband was Vietnamese.


Almost two minutes of puzzle-solving later, I felt a light tap on my shoulder. I turned to my left as she asked me, “Where are you from?” Although I had already told her, I again answered, “I’m from Vietnam”. The identical reaction of her face smiling and her hands clapping against each other as she leaned back into the chair repeated. She then went on to explain that she was from Hawaii with a 24-acre coffee farm that she ran with her family. This sequence of events happened two more times in the next ten minutes. I thought about her strange behavior, and all at once, it dawned upon me that she had dementia. Even though I had seen patients with dementia before, I had never seen any dementia patients with these types of symptoms. Her having dementia shocked me so much because although she forgot our conversation within minutes, she was still a high functioning individual. In addition, her short term memory transformed my previous ideas regarding dementia symptoms.


Soon after, the Activities Manager came in and started the bingo program. I stood up to help pass out the bingo sheets and then returned to my new acquaintance. Together, we listened to the numbers and pinned our called numbers with plastic coins. She was actually quite competitive and seemed eager to see if she had won bingo yet. But all at once, her demeanor shifted. She was confused, and she kept asking me to repeat the number that had been called. Moments later, she stopped paying attention, almost as if she had fallen asleep. 10 minutes passed before her behavior swapped again as if she had woken up. She once again paid attention, checked if she had bingo and even asked me if I had gotten bingo.


I was dumbfounded. I did not know what was happening. Was this behavior a form of dementia? I wondered to myself. This Asian lady had gone from being attentive to oblivious back to attentive almost like a chameleon changing colors. In addition, she seemed to not notice her lapses in her attentiveness.


After bingo, all the residents proceeded into the dining room for lunch, and I helped guide the wheelchair-bound patients along. While I physically helped serve lunch, my peculiar interactions with the petite Asian resident raced through my mind. Witnessing her condition scared me. I thought of my own grandparents who did not display these symptoms of dementia. “Would this happen to them too?” I worriedly thought. During lunch, the Asian lady disappeared among the crowd of other residents, and I was unable to find her. In fact, I never saw her again. Her name was the only thing I recalled. I did not know how long she had dementia nor what happened to her after that day. Her memory, however, never faded. 

Four years later, my grandmother showed signs of declining health. I often made lunch for my grandparents and brought it into their rooms. They ate in their beds due to limited mobility. Slowly, my grandmother began to question why I was there or where she was. It became a repeated and worsening experience. Eventually, she began to also forget who my grandfather and I were. This decline was deeply saddening, but this behavior was not a surprise. And one year after, when my grandfather began to forget what day it was, I was ready - mentally and physically.  

The author's comments:

This piece was written in early tenth grade. It is by no means my best work, but it's been so long since then that I've changed so much. It's extremely heartwarming to reflect upon my earlier writing. I've decided to upload this to memorialize an important personal experience and to publish online a sample of my writing at 14/15.

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