Dementia and Good Deeds

It’s 2019, and I’m back.

New year, same me. I could tell you I’m ready to change my life by meditating and giving up Diet Coke. But that’d be a lie.

However, I did watch Tidying Up with Marie Kondo on Netflix and got rid of a bunch of pointless stuff (not without thanking it, of course). I’m not a big fan of New Year’s Resolutions, so we’ll call this a decluttering thing a win–and as I sit in my home office looking out a window at 7 inches of snow, I’m done with January and ready for spring.

Since this is my first post of 2019, I’m focusing on something positive. And I’m going to brag about some awesome people I know.

Let me start by telling you that part of my job as a faculty member at the University of Northern Iowa is to serve as NCAA faculty athletics representative. To give you a brief explanation of what that means, I’ll tell you that every university must have one professor appointed by the President of the university to assure the academic integrity of the athletics program. Through serving in this role, I’ve gotten to know some pretty incredible and well-rounded student-athletes.

So let me tell you a story that was forwarded to me via email by the President of our university with a note that said, “This hits so many of the issue that you care deeply about and I knew it would give you a boost on a cold January day.”

Our women’s basketball team was visiting Peoria for a game at Bradley University when  they were grabbing a bite to eat at a chain restaurant. A gentleman and his mother, who happens to have dementia, were dining at the same place. His mother was having some struggles using the restroom, which created issues because her son was only able to be in the restroom when no other women were present. He had to exit and enter several times in an effort to assist her. (I know that many of the opposite-gender care partners who read this blog have been in this awkward situation, which is why I’m a fan of family restrooms in public places.)

Enter our women’s basketball team. Not only did they offer to help in whatever way possible, they encouraged him to say in the restroom and assist her. The gentlemen noted that several other women had been in and out of the restroom without offering help, but at least three or four of our student-athletes had verbally expressed willingness to assist.

The man was so touched that he contacted our university to relay this story.

Our student-athletes had no idea that a simple gesture to assist a family impacted by dementia would get back to their athletic director and the President of their university. They didn’t know it’d get some social media exposure. They were just offering a bit of kindness in what was a difficult situation.

I’ve told our student-athletes before that being a good person always trumps being a good athlete or a good student. I often say that I care more about how they represent themselves and our university than their win-loss record or their grade point average.

To be fair, we won that game at Bradley in overtime, and I can’t say it didn’t make my day as I watched the live stream.

When I heard this story a couple of days later, it made my gerontologist heart happy.

To my friends with dementia and those who are dementia care partners, I know sometimes it seems like this world doesn’t care much about you. People blow you off. People minimize your challenges and marginalize you.

I see why you get discouraged when the world doesn’t support you (and often it doesn’t)…but don’t stay in that place.

Because people do care.

If you think young people nowadays are worse than ever, keep in mind that every generation says that. I’ve got scores of college students who reassure me daily that the world isn’t going to hell in a handbasket after all.

Sure, you might see news clips of young people being disrespectful to those different than them in age, race, religion, disability status, and background. And you might worry that’s the way of the future.

But these young adults I know? They’re not going to let that happen.

See you next Monday, friends.




3 thoughts on “Dementia and Good Deeds

  1. Sounds similar to one of my former high school students who is now a college basketball coach. When he was at Millikin University, he started with a losing team and no crowd support. He was encouraging his team in general life skills so took them regularly to visit a nursing home. As they got to know the residents and eventually the families, the families started attending the basketball games. Matt Nadelhoffer has now moved on to coach at Elmhurst College, but will probably continue to mentor his players in more than just basketball.

    Our Earlham High School football team visits a local care center to play cards with the residents.

    There are many creative ways to get kids involved so dementia, disabilities and care facilities are not so scary.

    It’s nice when courteous behavior is recognized.


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