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Lauren Kessler

Bridging the Gap

Originally published in

Life in a residential Alzheimer’s facility
through the eyes of the low-wage workers
who care for these vulnerable patients
when their families can’t.

To better understand the disease that killed her mother, Lauren Kessler, a journalist and mother of three, took a job as an entry-level caregiver at a residential Alzheimer’s facility in Oregon. Her new book, Dancing with Rose, chronicles the months she spent caring for patients at varying stages of this devastating illness which afflicts more than 5 million Americans. Here, in an exclusive essay for NEWSWEEK, Kessler offers a glimpse into the lives of the underpaid and overburdened workers at “Maplewood”—the fictional name she has given to the institution where she worked.

Jasmine and I are co-workers at Maplewood, a residential facility for those with Alzheimer’s. We take care of people who can no longer care for themselves, and whose families can no longer care for them. The myth is that people dump their relatives in places like Maplewood. The reality is that the decision is an agonizing one frequently made after extraordinary, often long-term efforts to care for the person at home.

Jasmine and I spend our eight-hour shift “performing care with an awareness of dignity and individuality,” as the employee handbook recommends. That language is pleasing and high-minded—and I appreciate the thought behind it—but it obscures the unpleasant daily details of the work we do as we tend to the bodily needs of frail, elderly women and men in various stages of dementia.

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