Dealing With Dementia: Tom Alaimo’s Take
Posted on May 19, 2014 by Taylor Rhea
For Tom Alaimo, VP of Life Guidance® at Atria, memory care is more than just part of his profession – it’s personal.
“My late grandmother, Lucy, suffered from memory loss, but at the time we didn’t know a lot about Alzheimer’s and dementia.”
Tom’s grandmother passed away when he was a teenager, but he still remembers her struggles with dementia.
“Like everything in life, my grandmother faced her memory loss with remarkable grace,” said Tom. “She would often ask us the same question over and over. As kids we would laugh about it, but she was aware that her memory was failing and it didn’t seem to bother her.
“Of course, each person copes with memory loss differently. Some people become very defensive, frustrated and angry. Others are more easygoing – I think a lot of it has to do with the individual’s personality.
“My grandmother coped with her memory loss particularly well. She wasn’t depressed; there was never any aggression; she didn’t wander from home. She just accepted it and learned to live with it – like my mother is currently doing.”
Tom’s mother was diagnosed with dementia a few years ago. He describes her as an exact clone of his grandmother.
“I recognized it early on,” said Tom.
“My father initially tried to cover it up. I think the rest of my family began to recognize – the more they interacted with her – that something was wrong.
“Over the past few years, my mom has been declining with memory loss, but she accepts it. She understands what is happening – that it’s not uncommon – and she has a surprisingly positive attitude about it.”
Atria’s staff is trained to use strategies to help residents and families deal with memory loss. Tom offers a personal example of redirection: sometimes his mother will become confused and think Tom is still a child. She’ll ask, “why is your hair gray?”
Tom responds not by correcting her, but by telling her that he colored his hair gray on purpose so that he would look “older and more distinguished.”
“You have to go with it,” advises Tom. “If you don’t, you could risk agitating the person or causing an argument. It’s much better if you can redirect the conversation.”
Tom advises families to try and take each setback with a grain of salt.
“You have to let it bounce off of you. Don’t get me wrong, when you’re dealing with your parents’ or grandparents’ health, it gets emotional. But I’ve seen so many memory care residents and the difficulties they face on their journey. When I think about the challenges our family has faced, I feel fortunate.”
Tom has seen Atria’s approach to memory care evolve during his 10 and a half years with the company. The most significant change came in 2006, when Atria introduced its signature Life Guidance memory care program, which offered a more social-based approach.
“Keeping residents active and engaged – and providing opportunities for them to be social and connect with one another – has been found to be the most effective therapy for Alzheimer’s and dementia,” said Tom.
“The most rewarding part of my role is knowing that we’re making a positive difference in the life of every resident in our Life Guidance neighborhoods.
“We’re now home to nearly 1,800 memory care residents nationwide, and the impact of our work goes far beyond the residents: it touches their families, our employees, my family and friends – even strangers. People often ask me about memory care and memory loss, and it feels good to share Atria’s unique approach and success stories, as well as my own personal story.”
Through his work, Tom strives to honor his grandmother’s legacy and his mother’s present journey.
“I think the best thing I can do to honor my mother and grandmother,” Tom concluded, “is to help families understand this disease, how to cope with it – and how to support their family member with patience and compassion.”