Damaya Spillman never knows exactly how her work day will unfold. She might help an elder to bake a cake, or make a birthday card. Sometimes she plays soothing music for the seniors at the assisted living building where she works. She often gives hugs. But no matter the task at hand, Spillman is present in the moment with the elders she minds who suffer from memory loss. "We are here to nurture their spirit," says Spillman.
Spillman is a life enrichment manager at Sunrise Assisted Living of Wilmette. The facility houses and cares for 34 elders with memory loss. Spillman's job is to engage with each resident in a one-on-one activity that makes them feel good. It could be something as simple as holding hands, or watching a movie together. "We try to put a smile on their faces," says Spillman.
The job of life enrichment manager is a relatively new one at the Sunrise building. Spillman shares her duties with another manager, Kim Craigen. They give each resident about 45 minutes of individual attention a day. The activity is resident directed, focused on what the resident might need or like in that particular moment. One resident isn't able to do much anymore because of the advanced stage of her dementia. She is a religious woman, so Spillman reads scriptures to her from the Bible as she rests lying down.
Many residents enjoy an hour in a whirlpool bath while relaxing music is played in the background. Other residents like to bake. Spillman helps them crack the eggs and stir the batter.
The building has a Reiki room. Reiki is a Japanese healing therapy that uses touch to treat the whole person, including the body, emotions, mind and spirit. The life enrichment manager places her hands on or near the resident in certain positions which are held for 3-10 minutes. Spillman says Reiki is very relaxing for residents. "It helps us too," she laughs.
On a typical day, Spillman comes to work and sees who needs help. "We get right in there and comfort them," she says. But she also spends time reviewing each resident's individualized service plan. This plan tells her everything she needs to know about the residents and their backgrounds. "We try to find activities that they are familiar with from their previous life."
Birthdays are important. The life enrichment managers help the residents create a birthday board that hangs in their rooms. The board includes the resident's photo, along with where they lived, the names of their schools, and the names of their spouses and children.
The residents also make birthday cards for their children with Spillman's help. "We keep up with their children's birthdays," says Spillman. "The families really appreciate that."
Best of all, Spillman's job makes her feel good. One day Spillman said hello to a resident who no longer speaks. The resident turned her head in response and said, "Hello, sweetheart." Everyone in the room was shocked. "That was a really special moment for me," says Spillman. "Things like that really make me feel good, just having that sense of knowing that you are helping someone."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun