When Lydia Guo joined National Alzheimer’s Buddies (NAB) as a neuroscience student at Wellesley College, she had no idea what a profound effect it would have on her life. Working with an Alzheimer’s patient who was largely non-verbal meant that Lydia had to be creative when it came to communication. Whether it was incorporating colorful lights, holding hands or even playing classical music, she sought to find inventive ways to develop a connection. One afternoon as Lydia turned to leave, she heard a whispered, “Thank you.” Filled with tremendous gratitude, Lydia felt the full effect of the deep and powerful connection she’d made with this patient. A few weeks later, when musicians visiting the nursing home played a Doris Day song, her patient lit up in a way she’d never seen and started to dance.
“All of these moments are reminders about how important simple actions are when connecting with someone,” Lydia says.
This is just one, remarkable story among many that make National Alzheimer’s Buddies (NAB) so special. This exceptional program, co-founded by Ryan Christ and Robin Stewart, provides one-on-one support for Alzheimer’s patients living in nursing homes. By pairing them with volunteer college students, they are able to alleviate some of the emotional burdens these patients experience.
Lydia’s introduction to this organization ignited a spark that led her to co-found the Wellesley Chapter of NAB and serve as the Co-Director for two years. In 2020, she stepped up her involvement by becoming the Chief Financial Officer for the national organization and faced some of the challenges that came with that year head-on.
One of those major challenges was the Covid-19 pandemic. As everything began to shut down, nursing home restrictions left buddies and patients unable to connect. NAB applied to The Pollination Project to purchase tablets that would allow for virtual connection through video calls. However, some chapters found that nursing home staff were so overwhelmed with work that they were unable to help the patients to use their tablets. So once again, NAB got creative. They re-allocated some of the funds from The Pollination Project grant to be used to create care packages. Volunteers designed personalized items for their patients like decorated photo frames with a photo of the buddy and their patient.
It wasn’t only the pandemic that caused NAB to adapt their work, the racial protests of 2020 sparked an idea for a new initiative; one that is close to Lydia’s heart. As an Asian American woman witnessing a tremendous amount of xenophobia in society, Lydia was grateful to be working with an organization that was having thoughtful conversations around equality and inclusivity because it led to the development of a Social Justice Committee. One of their first orders of business was to expand their reach beyond nursing homes to community centers. Knowing that not everyone can afford to live in a nursing home, community centers allow NAB to reach more people who need support as well as their caregivers.
Despite the fact that NAB volunteers sometimes feel the weight of balancing a full-time job or graduate school alongside running a national organization, every member continues to work hard to connect with patients and create initiatives that support the community they love.
“Our volunteers are not only incredibly creative, they are passionate about this work. Like the med students who have been in rotation for 14 hours but still show up for Board meetings. Every volunteer goes above and beyond to donate time and energy,” Lydia says.
With heart and dedication like this, the impact of NAB is as limitless as the extraordinary hearts of every person involved.
Visit their website to learn more http://www.alzbuddies.org/