I have been visiting Bernie since the last week of January and I can say with confidence that the visits have significantly enhanced both of our lives. I joined this program because I understand the importance of having company when living in a retirement home, but our relationship has blossomed much further than me simply keeping her company. My first visit with Bernie was spent sitting in a sunny room talking in big, comfortable arm chairs. We had conversations about her former career as a teacher and a guidance counselor. It was evident that she was a guidance counselor because she was so engaged in conversation about my life and very curious about my passions, goals, and interests that she did not want to do participate in any organized activity that day. She said we just have too much to talk about.
Each time after this past visit has been spent chatting for the first 15 minutes or so and that going to the music and motion class with her friends. She loves to be active in this class and makes sure that everyone around her is doing the correct motion (if they are not, she is not afraid to help them!). Throughout the class, she always looks over at me to make sure that I am having fun. She has the warmest eyes and the cheeriest smile that is contagious to everyone around her.
I have found great success with bonding with my buddy and I can speculate why. In Alzheimer’s Disease, the patients cannot encode short-term memory because of the buildup of Beta-amyloid clogs the synapses and makes it difficult to form connections that build memories. However, long-term memories that were encoded before this buildup of amyloid and the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease are preserved. I brought this knowledge into my last visit and I asked my buddy what it was like to grow up in Toledo, Ohio, what her grandparents were like, and what her favorite biblical story to teach is (she was a former Hebrew school teacher at a synagogue). She immediately lit up when hearing these terms that sounded familiar and she exploded with stories about her favorite restaurant in Toledo, her grandparents who immigrated, and my name “Rachel” and how it relates to the Hebrew bible. These emotional connections made for an actively engaging visit and I truly believe that I improved her quality of life because those moments of clarity feel really good to Alzheimer’s patients.
My past visit with her has the been the best one yet. I walked into the room where she was doing guided stretching and meditation and something happened that has never happened before. Immediately after I walked in and made eye contact, she opened her arms for a hug and said “Hello my friend!”. I gave her a hug and said “Hi, Bernie! It’s me, Rachel” and she said “Oh I know I know I remember!” That was magic. It was a touching moment to feel so emotionally connected with Bernie, which was a great start to an even greater day. We went outside to enjoy the beautiful 75 degree Nashville sun and talked laps around the garden. She loves to be on the go so walking has been a favorite activity for us. Today I asked her what it was like to be a guidance counselor and what advice would she give me as a college freshman. She poured her heart out to me about her passions for helping others learn and told me that by teaching others, she has learned so much. She told me the importance of seeing the beauty in others and most importantly, in myself. She said that I will find happiness in life if my career is both fulfilling and enlightening. She also told me to never stop learning. These lessons were inspiring and I know that we both made a difference in each other’s lives.
About Rachel Gross
I am a freshman pre-medicine student at Vanderbilt University majoring in Medicine, Health, and Society with a concentration in Health Behaviors and Health Sciences. I spend a lot of my time as an active member in various student organizations, such as Vanderbilt Student Volunteers for Science, Vanderbilt Programming Board, ‘Dore for a Day (hosting prospective students who shadow me for a day).
I am particularly interested in working with Alzheimer’s patients not only because of my family’s history of neurodegenerative disease, but also because I am studying to become a doctor and I value my development of interpersonal skills with all types of patients for whom I may be caring. Improving the quality of life for others reminds me why I study what I do in order to pursue my dream of becoming a doctor
After graduating from Vanderbilt, I plan to go to medical school. In my free time, I love riding my bike, exploring Nashville, and playing my ukulele.