It hit Tracy Shanks in the middle of her morning drive to work.
Shanks, the activity coordinator at Vancouver Orchards Retirement Community, wanted to do something special for the residents she serves at Orchards, which provides assisted living, memory care support and retirement cottages. It was a way to honor the residents during National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, she said.
Shanks decided to hire a makeup crew, get residents dolled up and take photos of them for themselves and their families. After all, what holds a memory better than a photograph?
“This disease is very ugly, and I just wanted to show the beauty, the faces behind this disease, which they live with every single day,” Shanks said.
On Tuesday, Shanks’ idea came to fruition. A line of residents, some by themselves, some with their significant others, snaked through Orchards’ cafeteria. A woman sat down and had blush brushed on. Another woman had her hair sprayed. A man had his hair combed. Then they each settled onto a couch for photos.
Some couples sat together, holding hands. Some giggled. One man, by himself, held a guitar for a photo.
Shanks recalled a resident, who was getting more and more forgetful, once telling her, “I’m me” over and over again.
“They’re just trying to hold onto that one little piece that’s still in there. That’s why I’m doing this because they are still there,” Shanks said.
Shanks wanted residents to feel pampered and loved, she said. She takes them out to lunches monthly, or for shopping at the Dollar Tree or Fred Meyer. Shanks said people with Alzheimer’s still have fun, and it’s important for caretakers, loved ones or friends to bring enthusiasm to their interactions.
“They might forget your name or their family, but they don’t forget the energy you put off,” Shanks said.
A special day
Lucy and Pat Campbell, both 81, have been living at Orchards for about six years now. Pat Campbell said he thinks his wife appreciated the photo shoot because “she likes to do anything new,” he explained.
Liz, 75, and Kent Boswell, 77, reside in the assisted living part of Orchards, but Liz Boswell has stage seven Alzheimer’s. They’ve been married for 56 years. Kent Boswell said his wife used to have “a day of beauty” occasionally where she made herself up.
“I know she would have liked this,” he said.
As Pat and Lucy Campbell posed on the couch for their picture, a woman paused in the common room, and began to sing “The Way We Were.” She said she couldn’t sing the song as well as Barbra Streisand, but that the lyrics were still beautiful to her. Shanks looked on, tears forming. The woman kept singing the same refrain.
“Memories of the way we were,” she sang.