Ann Sweeney Makes Memories with Clients with Alzheimer’s and Dementia


A year after Ann Sweeney retired from teaching mathematics at St. Catherine University, an ad in her church bulletin caught her attention. “It spoke to me,” she says. “Our Lady of Peace (OLP) was looking for volunteers for their hospice in the community program to visit patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia. My father died at a young age from what was later determined to 

be Alzheimer’s disease. I was in college, followed by working as a teacher when my mom and my siblings were caring for my dad, so answering this call seemed like the thing to do.” 

Since 2018, Ann has visited OLP patients in home hospice care and she says the bonds she has formed have been built from going for walks, reading, participating in activities, having conversations, laughing, crying, holding hands, and providing comfort. “My first patient was a 100-year- old woman with dementia,” she says.” I visited her for well over a year. When we first met, she told me long involved stories. None what she was saying made sense, but if you were watching us, but not hearing us, you would think she was having the time of her life.” And when the end-of-life was near, Ann held her hand and gave her hand massages. This relationship was the beginning of her calling to work with women with dementia. 

Another client was in a memory care unit, and her daughter asked for help with feeding her mom. Ann recalls, “I would go and make her breakfast and feed her. She was non-verbal but expressed her feelings through facial expressions.” It was a blessing to her, and her aides as well.” 

Realizing that each patient is different, Ann gets to know each of them, and finds out what they like and what they want. “One woman I visited for over two years wanted to walk up and down the halls where she lived, so that’s what we did. We didn’t talk, we just walked, and she was happy she was moving. I find what it is that people need at that moment and provide it. I want to do what’s meaningful to them.” 

During Covid when Ann was unable to do her weekly visits, she wrote to her client instead, having no idea if she would read it. Sadly, the client died before things opened back up. Her daughter wrote to Ann to say how much her mom had appreciated her notes. “I hadn’t thought about how what I do goes on to the family, and I appreciated her note so much.” Ann explains. “And I now have a better understanding of what my dad experienced, and what it took for my mom and siblings to care for him in the early 70’s when people didn’t know as much about Alzheimer’s disease.”

Ann has now received a note from the family of every one of her clients. “I don’t expect it,” she says modestly. “And I would think they would have so many other things on their mind. But it reinforced the fact that OLP volunteers have a place. It made me realize the value of my weekly visits, not only to the patient, but also their families. This work fulfills me.” 

April is Volunteer Appreciation Month. We are grateful for Ann Sweeney, who also serves on our volunteer advisory board. Watch for another volunteer story in the weeks to follow.

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