Featuring: Juanell Glotzbach, Activities Director, Knollwood Life Plan Community

We’ve all done it. We can’t remember words, or why we came into the room, or where we parked the car, and before we know it, we’re at the keyboard searching for articles on the top 20 signs of dementia.

For those who work in long-term care, the signs are clear – from the subtle declines in the well-rehearsed activities of our daily lives, like paying bills and taking medication, to behavioral changes, disorientation, and paranoia. Dementia is debilitating. It takes away a person’s capacity to initiate an activity or maintain a routine. It’s a caregiver’s job to recognize patients’ cognitive and physical abilities, and help engage these people— to work their brains throughout the day.

Juanell Glotzbach (left)

“It takes training, and there are tricks of the trade. But really, it’s a million little things that keep residents engaged.” says Juanell Glotzbach, Activities Director at Knollwood Life Plan Community, and a Ceca Award Honoree.

Juanell was born a caregiver. She grew up in a large family in the small town of Mulberry, Arkansas. Cared for by her mother and five older siblings, she in turn, helped them care for her five younger brothers and sisters. And she learned to care for her grandmother, who had dementia and was continually being moved between relative’s homes, which was very confusing for her. Caregiving was just part of family life.

Juanell left Mulberry for Utah, and then headed east to be a nanny in Maryland, caring for one-year old twins. As they grew, she’d take the children every day with her to volunteer in a near-by nursing home. Residents and management alike loved the trio. They recognize Juanell’s talent, and recruited and trained her as an activities professional. Today, she shares stories about her tradecraft, and some of the little things she does for the residents in her charge.

“One-on-one time is the best part,” explains Juanell.

She loves to spend time with residents, learning about their family history, past lives and their talents. “There was one lady, 103 years old, who couldn’t hear very well and could barely see, but she’d been a poet. So I’d start reading a poem to her, and she would brighten, and finish reciting the entire poem from memory. She just needed a start. It’s so rewarding to help bring those memories alive for her.”

When she gets to know residents past interests and their likes and dislikes, Juanell puts together Reminisce Kits—and she has several. There is a “Day at the Beach Kit,” with sand and shells, a bucket and a beach chair. There’s a “School Kit” with blackboard, chalk, a book and math problems; and a “Cooking Kit” with cookie sheets, and oven mitts, spices, and sugar cookie candles, to give the resident a multi-sensory experience with sight, touch and smell, which might bring back fond memories like baking cookies during the holidays.

The staff at Knollwood is lucky to have PARO, the robotic seal – an adorable furry soft baby harp seal that responds to patients’ touch and voice the way an animal would, and delivers the benefits of live animal therapy without the care. “While patients are cuddling and petting PARO, you talk to them about pets and that really helps spark their memories, and gets them talking about the animals they had as children,” says Juanell. (PARO and Knollwood recently appeared in an article in TIME.)

Such tools are helping to change the culture of dementia care, but as Juanell explains, “It’s really about just finding what makes someone’s day special, and what makes them happy. It might involve giving them a manicure, reading a story, playing music, or bringing them a fresh tomato from the garden – do that and bring them as many moments of joy as you can every day.”

Juanell advises aspiring caregivers to be patient. “You have to get outside of yourself if you want to care about the other people. I simply want to be remembered as someone who gave my time, and energy to bring some happiness to others.”

No doubt that will be her legacy. As a Ceca Award winner this year, she’s already been recognized by her peers at Knollwood as the “face of hospitality, the face of person-centered care, the face of professional teamwork, the face of humility and wholistic mentor to all.” Juanell Glotzbach was indeed, born a caregiver.

To schedule an interview with one of our featured caregivers, contact us at prinquiries@cecafoundation.org.