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By the Bay Health

By the Bay Health’s Longest-Serving Volunteer

More Than Three Decades of Heartfelt Care and Support

By Annette Lindemann & Carol Watts

“Whether running the Arts and Crafts cabin at our summer bereavement camp for youth and teens, or sitting vigil with a hospice patient whose family cannot be by their bedside at end-of-life, Miriam Bowers truly is a one-of-a-kind volunteer.  When Miriam commits herself to a patient, she is THERE —100% — with her heart of gold, boundless energy and humble sincerity.”
                      —Cheryl Wilkins, Volunteer Services Manager

Salt of the earth.  Community engaged.  Artistic.  Compassionate.  Intuitive.  Patient. Collaborative.  This unique blend of qualities and so many others are why Miriam Bowers has been one of By the Bay Health’s most cherished and acknowledged volunteers throughout the past 30 years.

Miriam’s wealth of experience, knowledge, and genuine care for each patient’s unique set of circumstances has enabled her to establish meaningful connections with patients in both private homes and care facilities.

Several months of visits with Betty*, an elderly hospice patient with late-stage Alzheimer’s disease, made a lasting impression on Miriam.  She spent about two hours each week with Betty, initially meeting in the common dining area of her residential care facility.  Miriam noticed the loud television and chattering of nearby staffers were distracting to Betty, making it difficult for her to engage in their visits.  Following an instinct, Miriam made one small change.

“We moved to a quieter lounge area where we could sit together on a couch and focus on our visit.  I always started with a little small talk, which helped us connect and allowed me to assess how Betty was doing that day.  We would take our time settling in by reading children’s books, because they often trigger happy memories for patients with dementia.  Sometimes I’d incorporate a song, or a puppet, stuffed animal or other ‘prop’ related to the story.  Other times we’d create simple crafts or do puzzles together.”

With Miriam’s consistent visits, Betty gradually opened up to conversing more.  She would proudly introduce herself, “I’m Betty,” and occasionally recalled her family members’ names.  Miriam particularly enjoyed that “Betty loved music and would sing random notes or parts of a melody, sometimes even a few lyrics.  She would wave her arms as if leading a choir.  It was such a pleasure to see how much Betty connected with music.”

Betty’s hospice nurse, Sara Tolchin, noticed the obvious benefit of Miriam’s visits,  “I was always thrilled to see Miriam during my nursing visits because I knew Betty would be more responsive and engaged.  Miriam’s gentle presence, kind attention, and patience with Betty’s condition made it possible for me to assess her physically and cognitively in a more effective way.  Miriam was a wonderful companion for Betty and a very positive presence in her life.  She is a shining example of what a volunteer’s love can do for a patient.”

Due to the COVID-19 shelter-in-place and limitations on in-person visits, Miriam is currently on hiatus as a patient support volunteer, but that hasn’t stopped her dedication to service.  She’s sewn dozens of beautiful, vintage fabric masks for HBTB’s mask distribution program, and is a passionate community volunteer helping to get out the vote this November.  Thank you, Miriam, for sharing your generous heart and creative compassion so selflessly with HBTB’s patients and staff for over three decades!

*patient’s name changed to protect privacy.  Betty has graduated from hospice care with an extended prognosis.

Beyond the Blog

To create genuine connections with patients or loved ones challenged with Alzheimer’s disease, Miriam offers a few suggestions from her many years of experience:

  • Look for books and stories the patient can relate to from their generation or childhood.  Books with old-fashioned or classic illustrations sometimes spark memories that can lead to conversation.  Oversized books with memorable nursery rhymes and fables are also good choices, as well as interactive books like the Wee Sing songbook series.
  • Include engaging props like puppets, puzzles, pinwheels, or musical instruments.
  • Bring art supplies and ask your patient to help you make cards or craft projects such as paper party hats with stickers and decorations. Anything creative can spur a conversation.
  • If the patient lives in a nursing facility, be kind and hospitable with other residents who may wander in and out, or ask to join in with your patient’s activity.
  • Keep the pace easy and expect interruptions.  If you try an activity that doesn’t work in a particular moment, let it go and try another.  You can always attempt it another time.