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Nurse helps patients with memory issues cherish every moment

Nurses Week 2019

This week is a special week on the Medical Watch, WGN News is honoring the unsung heroes of medicine — nurses. From cancer treatment to rehab, we tackle memory care and end of life.  

Every minute of every day, someone in the United States is diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. Still more are living with dementia. For their families, it is sad and confusing as well. As WGN News continues our celebration of nurses, meet a woman who helps those with memory issues cherish every minute.

Music stimulates the mind and gets patients at Senior Star Memory Care moving. Singing increases oxygen levels, helping them to breathe better, and when they smile, it swells RN Connie Bowen's heart.

“It’s never the same and to focus on someone’s abilities and have moments, many, many, many, many moments throughout the day. It’s incredible,” Bowen said. “That’s all it takes, I’m acknowledging their fear or their anger. To be their hero, that’s what everyone needs, a hero. And when you go into a situation where someone is so terrified because they don’t know where they’re at or they don’t know how they got here, and you can be their hero and change their day, change that moment into something successful now that they can participate in dancing, they can eat their breakfast, they can take their medication, it’s incredible.”

Yet some days things change in an instant.

“It was a sudden decline as even up until yesterday she was up walking, eating,” Bowen said of a patient named Helen.

Seeing Helen in this state brought tears to Bowen’s eyes, yet she only lets her patients see her smile.

“Every day we perform little miracles, and it just makes coming back every day worthwhile, focusing on someone’s abilities as opposed to their disabilities, so it’s wonderful,” she said. “I love my job. We’ve had residents walk in the facility, and the family thinks this is the last place, they are close to the end, and we’ve had them for years. They are like mini miracles all day. You know you’re in the right place when you can do that for someone else. It’s incredible, it’s indescribable. I think when people think of dementia, they see and think only what the person is losing, what they’ve lost, what they’re no longer able to do instead of all their abilities that they still have, the things that they still can do. I’ve had people say to me, ‘Oh, you’re not in the ICU.’ You know what? I kind of am, because if someone is so afraid they won’t get up and get dressed and do their regular activities of daily living, that’s pretty serious. We do CPR, too, and I’ve done the Heimlich many, many times at the end stage of this disease, and that’s important, but so is making someone feel whole and loved, and it’s every day we do it, every day.”

And at the end of her day, Bowen goes home to her mother, who is living with Alzheimer's disease. She may not remember who she is some days, but somehow, she senses the magic when Bowen is around.

“I truly believe that people with dementia have a sixth sense,” Bowen said. “They can feel feelings and emotions on a level that you and I can’t. Their brain is broken, they are not doing things on purpose, and it is our responsibility to help them through, to make their day worthwhile and have meaning and purpose every single day.”

Clearly a woman who understands not just the disease but the people with it.

More information on Alzheimer's disease website and Senior Star Memory Care Community website.

More on WGN's coverage of Nurses Week 2019

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