Hi! You came to my Psych of Aging class at UMW a couple weeks ago & I really liked your presentation. Having never considered gerontology before (I had previously planned on being a school counselor), I'm now finding myself more interested in the field. At the same time, I've been known to be really sensitive when it comes to the sad stuff. I was wondering how you deal with your emotions in a field that must exhibit a lot of grief, especially seeing residents go through severe stages of dementia

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Hey! Thank you, I enjoyed talking to the class! That’s a good question.

Yes, we lose residents to death and move-outs, and yes, it is easy to get attached to people here. I’ve shed my fair share of tears. I try, however, to focus on the positive moments we have, and there are many more of those than there are sad ones. Even my residents in advanced dementia seem, for the most part, like very happy people. They enjoy the little things in life, the things most of us ignore.

You learn to accept that death is a part of life, and I really think that working in this field has made me appreciate life more. You also get to be a person who provides comfort for families when they lose people they love.

I think, although it can be sad, the joy you get from helping others outweighs the painful parts. 90% of the time I leave here feeling successful and happy that we’ve improved the lives of our residents and their families. The other 10% is when we’ve lost a person we care about. But I know we made a positive impact.

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Rachael Wonderlin is an internationally-recognized dementia care expert and consultant. She has a Master’s in Gerontology and is the author of two published books with Johns Hopkins University Press. Rachael owns Dementia By Day, a dementia care consulting and education company.

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