Care is cyclical. It’s no secret. Our parents care for us. We end up caring for our parents. Why should the cycle of care end there? Sure, we may have our own children that we now care for. But what about Mom and Dad? Certain faculties may be diminished but the nurturing instinct endures. A special partnership in Arizona has found a way to keep that cycle of care going by placing tiny kittens in the care of memory loss patients.
It is the very sort of story that inspires care managers and ignites our passion for what we do. Rebecca Hamilton, the health services director of the Catalina Springs Memory Care facility in Oro Valley, forged her own loop of love by linking her own frequent fostering of kittens with her daily work in service of the elderly. When she learned that Pima County Animal Care Center, where she is a veteran kitten fosterer, needed extra help caring for newborns, she took the initiative and the “Bottle Babies” program was born. It is not hard to envision the faces of elderly residents bottle-feeding cuddly kittens. It’s quite a joy, actually. So what has the experience been like for the elders?
Referring to this problem that elders face as memory loss is a bit of a misnomer. They may lose certain aspects or remember differently but they certainly do not lose all memory. There is plenty in there and plenty of ways to shake it loose. Recreation assistants regularly employ trivia and music to work at certain areas of memory. The staff at Catalina Springs are learning that a wealth of skills, emotions and needs re-emerge when people care for babies. They stem from the very core of who we are. In that sense, the program has been a raging success. Residents are even sharing memories of childhood pets.
Hamilton wrote the following in an email to the web site Upworthy: “We have some residents who are chronically searching, chronically looking for something that is familiar, something that holds meaning to them.”
This is so true for so many suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s. It can feel like life is being taken from you piece by piece, memory by memory. One of the greatest gifts we as caregivers can offer is a reminder of what they still have, who they still are and who they will always be. The delight you see in the face of an elder bottle feeding a kitten is the reaction to someone returning something they thought was lost or missing. That something is love.
In the most primal sense, feeding is love. Every time a kitten finishes a bottle, a transaction of love is completed. Each time the same kitten needs another, the transaction begins again. The elders doing the feeding feel as if they are of use, on the most profound level. That goes a long way in terms of relief as far as dementia treatment is concerned. Catalina residents feel renewed purpose, even clarity.
The kittens that Pima County Animal Care Center send over need to be fed every two hours. Now, the elders at Catalina Springs still, more or less, eat three meals a day but many of them still require around the clock care and monitoring. Yet, Catalina Springs executive director Sharon Mercer clearly has her eye on the proverbial ball as far as her chosen profession is concerned. These words from her press release sum up what elder care is about for all of us: “The desire to give love and receive love remains. These kittens have given us the opportunity to nurture this human condition that lies in each and every one of our residents.”