SCARBOROUGH — Chances are you know someone with Alzheimer’s disease.

More than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease, and one in eight older Americans has the disease. Indeed, Alzheimer’s is the only cause of death among the top 10 in the U.S. that cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed.

You may not know, however, some of the dedicated professionals who devote their lives to caring for Alzheimer’s patients with compassion, respect and love. People like Tim Osgood and Kelly Labbe, two caregivers in the Rose Garden memory program at Scarborough Terrace in Scarborough.

Osgood, the Rose Garden coordinator, discovered his calling to care for older patients while he was living with his mother during her final stages with cancer. He went on to become certified as a nursing assistant. After working for a nursing home in Falmouth, he arrived at Scarborough Terrace in 2001, left briefly for another position, and returned in 2005.

“It’s all about how you approach the resident,” Osgood said. “You have to establish trust, and you have to be flexible. You might want them to take a bath, and they think they’ve already taken it. If they don’t want breakfast, don’t force it. If they want to go to bed with their shoes on, so what?”

Osgood especially enjoys hearing people talk about their past lives, even though these same people might not know what day it is or whether they’ve eaten breakfast. “Each person has a different personality, so I’m different with each one,” he said. “I just try to make a connection.”

Osgood is also skilled at relating with family members during a time, he notes, “when the parent sees the child as their parent.”

Labbe took a somewhat more circuitous path to her current position. She worked as a waitress in Farmington for 15 years, tended bar in Florida and worked in a casino for a cruise line. She returned to Maine in 2007 and worked in assisted living at Scarborough Terrace before joining the Rose Garden unit four years ago.

“Even when I was 10 or 11, I liked being with old people, baking cookies for them and talking with them,” Labbe said. “Many of the residents with dementia don’t remember our names, but they remember our faces. Tim and I arrange our schedules around the residents’ schedules in order to always be there when they need us. If I can make one person smile, it’s been a good day.”

Labbe derives special pleasure from helping the ladies fix up their hair and make-up. “The women still want to be beautiful,” she said, “and I love making them up. We’re like teenage girls when we do hair and make-up.”

Labbe also takes pride in her ability to get patients to do things they might not want to do, such as take a shower. “People say, ‘Get Kelly. She can do it,’” she admitted.

The Rose Garden is like a family, with people always caring for one another and looking out for each other. “This is a small unit,” Osgood said. “If someone has an issue, we know about it and address it.”

Sidebar Elements

Caregivers Kelly Labbe, left, and Tim Osgood, work with a resident at Scarborough Terrace, where they’ve developed a program to address the specific needs of people with Alzheimer’s disease.

Unsung Heroes

One in a series of profiles by Brunswick writer David Treadwell about people who quietly contribute to the quality of life in greater Portland. Do you know an Unsung Hero? Tell us: [email protected].

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