Working in Memory Care: ‘It’s Not a Textbook Type of Thing’

Gail Halvorson, an LNA and certified dementia practitioner at the VNA, talks with Essex Adult Day and Memory Care Program participant Nancy Holtman about her handmade gift bags and painted cards. 

Thousands of feet above the ground, Nancy Holtman was flying high. Her husband, a pilot, usually flew small planes, but was loaned a larger vessel for the day to bring her for a joy ride. He invited her into the cockpit – the best seat in the house.

Only a few minutes later, Nancy’s eyes wandered from the open sky to her lap; she wanted to continue reading her book.

“He was so mad at me!” Nancy recalls, laughing at the memory from decades ago.

Small recollections like this are the ones Gail Halvorson, a Licensed Nurse Assistant and Dementia Care Practitioner with the VNA, searches for with her clients. Often these modest, special moments become ingrained in people’s minds over the years, and are the easiest to retrieve.

In her heyday, Nancy owned an art shop in Florida, something she also often talks about while spending time with Gail at the Essex Adult Day and Memory Care Program. As they sift through Nancy’s collection of homemade gift bags and painted cards, Nancy tells Gail, “You’re so nice to me.”

For Gail, moments like this are what make ADP dementia care her dream job. She recognizes the importance of tailoring care to each client’s specific experience, because dementia affects each individual differently, she says.

“When I have happy moments with them and make a difference in their life, it just makes [me] want to cry,” she said. “Even if it’s just for that moment.”

This is Gail’s second career. She found our home-away-from-home at age 64, after retiring from a 30-year career at a local bank. She began as a Personal Care Attendant, graduated to an LNA, and became one of the VNA’s first dementia care practitioners in Vermont. She pioneered a path many more VNA staffers have traveled since.

Gail’s interest in dementia care stems from personal experience. Her mother, who lives in Vermont, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2008. One thing Gail has learned through the years is that a person with Alzheimer’s “is still there,” even when it may not seem like they’re mentally aware.

With a motto of “love, listen and learn,” Gail finds the importance in getting to know her clients.

“It’s not a textbook type of thing,” she says. “But it’s a wonderful thing when clients get comfortable with you, and they trust you. I love my job.”

June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month. The VNA thanks our dedicated memory care staff, who work day in and day out to ensure our clients’ well-being. Staff, pictured below, wore purple on June 21 – the longest day of the year – to show support for our memory care clients. 

Essex Adult Day and Memory Care Program staff are pictured wearing purple on June 21.

South Burlington Adult Day and Memory Care Program staff wore purple on June 21 to show support for VNA memory care clients. June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month.