By Sarah Stevenson - A Place for Mom Blog
One non-profit organization aims to reach as many seniors, families, and everyday individuals as possible and change the perception of aging and the elderly through their dreams.
If your elderly parent could make one wish, what would he or she wish for? Chances are, it wouldn’t necessarily be something extravagant, like a luxury cruise. Chances are, they’d want to fulfill one of those desires that simply make day-to-day life happier: being able to attend a favorite sporting event, or watch the waves crashing on the beach.
Second Wind Dreams is a non-profit organization in Marietta, Georgia, that aims to do just that. They’re giving seniors the opportunity to have an adventure they’ve always wanted, maybe to see long-lost family, or relive a cherished memory. In the process, Second Wind Dreams is spreading understanding and respect for our society’s elders, connecting them with family and the community.
Take one of the company’s recent success stories, a woman who had always dreamed of having a formal wedding – she and her husband never had the chance. “Her husband was deceased and they had been married for 60 or 70 years,” says Candice Beaty, Managing Director of Second Wind Dreams. “David’s Bridal stepped in and allowed her to come to their store and try on different dresses. When she came out, her whole family was there. What she didn’t know was that they had also made arrangements for her to have a big wedding reception.”
Needless to say, she was surprised. “Our dreams are usually surprises,” Beaty says. “Often we’re supported by organizations that want to come in and recognize these dreams…. and donate their resources and their time to make these dreams come to life.”
Second Wind Dreams was founded in 1997, and since then, they’ve made almost 2,000 dreams come true, with a fleet of 600 organizational members (many of them residential communities) and over 6,000 volunteers at the ready.
It’s truly inspiring, not least because they do not set any restrictions on who can join in: “There is no diagnosis required to fulfill a dream. We do it across the board for elders.” Why? Broadly, their mission is to change the perception of aging, but, specifically, Second Wind Dreams wants to change the way we engage with our elders as a society.
When the company’s founder, P.K. Beville, was working as a geriatric psychologist, she would ask her elderly patients questions like “What would your perfect day be like? What would your dream be?” Often, their dreams and desires would be fairly simple: “I wish I could cut the grass again. I wish I could go to church.” Beville asked herself why, as a society, could we not serve our elders in this way. So, she came up with Second Wind Dreams. After all, says Beaty, “What better way to honor them than to make something like that happen for them?”
The benefits are measurable. “Our research indicates how it has a positive effect on the rate of depression in an elder care community, not just for the dreamer but the other residents,” Beaty says. “It affects employee retention. It generates a good feeling in the community.” From a societal standpoint, it helps remind the community that this group of individuals, often marginalized, has a lot to offer – and they deserve honor and respect.
The message of respect and understanding is especially important when it comes to ouraging population with dementia. Second Wind Dreams serves them, too: “We are partnering with the AFA [Alzheimer's Foundation of America] on a program called Sleeping Dreamers. We do dreams for any elder that we serve, but our dreamers who are cognitively challenged are particularly special to us,” says Beaty.
Here’s just one example. An older man, who had been a University of Georgia basketball coach for many years, was suffering from dementia. He and his family wanted to attend a basketball game, so Second Wind Dreams arranged for him to attend a professional Atlanta Hawks game. They had floor seats, were able to meet Dominique Wilkins, an ex-player, and the news was there reporting on it all. But, Beaty says, “When he got to the sports arena, he really didn’t respond at all. Dominique Wilkins introduced himself, he didn’t respond at all. The news tried to engage him—no response.
“As soon as the game started, something changed in him. He recognized immediately where he was, he became engaged in the game, calling plays, acknowledging moves. He instantly became engaged in that moment. It was an opportunity that his family thought they would never see again.”
Every effort needs funding, and the way the Dreams are funded is through donations and through proceeds from another worthwhile program, the Virtual Dementia Tour. The VDT was invented by Second Wind Dreams’ founder P.K. Beville, who wanted to figure out a way for society to better serve and understand those that are memory impaired.
Participants who engage in the program are temporarily given the opportunity to experience what it’s like to have dementia, loss of hearing, loss of vision, arthritis, and other conditions of aging, and then asked to perform a series of tasks. “We can’t write off those people who have dementia; we have to treat them,” Beaty notes – and spreading first-hand understanding to as many people as possible is the first step.
“I think the next step for us is to really connect with society on this issue. It’s not just an issue of the patient. It’s now considered a global epidemic. We’ve presented the VDT to organizations from Facebook to the CDC, even Parliament in the UK. The thirst is there from individuals who know how rapidly dementia is spreading.
“Until we come up with a cure, we must do something to address those currently living with it. This is the best way we as a society can take action.” Of course, since the proceeds from the tour go back into fulfilling seniors’ Dreams, “It’s a win-win for everybody.”
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