Ellie was still managing on her own, but she knew she would eventually need more help, especially given her chronic health conditions—COPD, hypertension, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and major depression. So, at the age of 83, she made the decision to sell her condo and proactively move to a Lifespark Senior Living Community. While she didn’t regret her decision, the move deepened her depression and anxiety, and added to her sense of loss: the death of her spouse and family members struggling with addiction, and now, the loss of her independence, familiar neighborhood, church community, and sense of purpose.
Source of comfort
The silver lining for Ellie was having a Medicare health plan that included Lifespark COMPLETETM. That gave her access to a dedicated Life Manager and an in-home primary care expert, at no additional cost to her. When Lifespark Life Manager, Martha Sawyer, Occupational Therapist, first met Ellie, the word that came to her was ‘loss’—”She seemed lost and overwhelmed by her losses,” she said, adding that initially, she saw Ellie more frequently to help with the transition and address her most recent losses.
“When Ellie moved away from her church, she thought she’d lost her pastor, a woman who’d been a tremendous source of comfort when Ellie’s husband died,” Martha said. So, one of the first things she did was to Google the church, find the pastor’s email, and send her a request for an outreach call. While she and Ellie were watching a video of a recent sermon, the pastor responded, first by email and then by phone. At the end of that phone call, Ellie and her pastor had set up a regular time to connect.
Clear sense of identity
Ellie’s self-image was closely tied to her sense of purpose, and now she felt like she’d lost both. A former preschool teacher, she’d poured her heart into volunteering with preschool children, doing crafts and reading to them. “When I asked Ellie how she identifies herself, she said, ‘I’m a volunteer,’” Martha said. “What she missed most were the little ones.”
Unfortunately, COVID had eliminated many volunteer opportunities for older adults who are at higher risk for severe illness, but Ellie’s love of volunteering gave Martha an idea. “Many of my clients are in Memory Care, and while adults with dementia are very different from young children, I thought that Ellie’s skills and talents might be a great fit for these residents,” she said. Ellie was interested, so Martha connected her with the Activities Director. And so began Ellie’s transformation.
Just a few months in, she has become an all-star volunteer with the adults in Memory Care, doing craft projects, singing with them, reading “Little House on the Prairie” and other stories, helping them make Rice Krispie treats, taking them outside and even to bingo. When she needed to buy craft supplies at the Dollar Store, Martha offered to accompany her on her first trip using the community senior bus. “Before I knew it, she’d done it by herself—something her anxiety had once kept her from doing,” she said.
Team player with purple hair
Martha sees Ellie’s new-found sense of confidence in every aspect of her life. “She’s involved in everything—outings, programs, and events like the Team TrYathlon,” Martha said. “She even dyed her hair purple for the competition.” That experience stoked Ellie’s desire to be healthier and more active, so to support that goal, Martha and the Nurse Practitioner arranged onsite physical therapy to work with her and to set up an exercise program she could continue on her own.
Fulfilling a wish
One concern that Martha had was how hard Ellie was working. “Every time we met, she’d have a long list of things she wanted to talk about and work on. I finally told her that she deserved a special treat,” she said, adding that every six months, Life Managers can apply for a Lifespark WishTM for their client.
When she asked Ellie what she’d most like to do, she said, “Lunch at my favorite restaurant,” which was a salad bar in a little grocery store-deli in her old neighborhood. Martha encouraged her to think bigger, but Ellie was adamant. So, on the appointed date, Martha picked her up in her Lifespark car and at her client’s request, they drove past her former condo and the park where she used to meet with friends, and when Ellie walked into that deli, she was greeted by name. “It was a sort of homecoming for her,” Martha said. “I had thought her wish was too small, but it turned out to be absolutely perfect.”
Martha said that whenever she runs into her client at her Senior Living Community, Ellie introduces her as her cheerleader and guardian angel. “She’s always telling me that everyone should have Lifespark—everyone,” Martha said. “Ellie’s a Lifespark superfan.”
Martha believes that what reignited Ellie’s spark was returning to who she is and what she loves to do: she’s a volunteer who finds purpose and passion in bringing joy to others. And with the support of her COMPLETE team and onsite staff, her spark is lighting up the lives of everyone she meets.
To learn more about Lifespark COMPLETE and Lifespark’s approach to senior living and our community locations, visit Lifespark Senior Living or call 952-345-8770.