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Robin Casterlin : Caregiver Provides Love to Alzheimer’s & Dementia Patients

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Some families tell me, ‘This isn’t my mom, or this isn’t my dad.’ Their parents no longer know who their children are.”

I walk into SouthTowne Living Center of Eugene, a home for people with Alzheimer’s and dementia, and I’m immediately struck by slumped heads, blank stares, and a feeling of death before me.

A resident named Lauree Davis, also known as Nana, slowly waves me over and extends her hand. She barely has enough strength to grasp my hand, but she manages. Slowly, she takes my hand and kisses it as if I have known her all my life. This love is flowing from a home where every moment is not taken for granted.

The headwaters of this love is  Activities Coordinator Robin Casterlin. She has been at SouthTowne Living Center since the doors opened in 1991 and her energy hasn’t dropped since.

“My philosophy focuses on quality of life,” says Casterlin. “I try to live with the residents in the moment, giving them something to smile about.”

Casterlin brings in people from the community to play music, paint, or do just about anything to brighten the day of those who suffer with this disease. When an act is not scheduled that day, Casterlin will take it upon herself to play the piano and sing songs for the residents.

“We kick, laugh, and have a lot of fun,” Casterlin says. “Through music, they can get out of their disease for a moment. They put up with my singing for the most part and sometimes they will even teach me songs. Usually they’re off just a bit.”

Along with setting up entertainment, Casterlin also schedules an activity calendar for the home that includes bringing in members of different religions. This is all part of an attempt to make SouthTowne Living Center more like home for the residents. But at the same time it’s a joy for Casterlin.

She says, “Knowing that I can get a smile from the residents, which is not easy, is such a reward. It is gratifying to get paid to do something I love to do.”

Her impact on the residents is astonishing. Although dementia patients have great difficulty remembering elements and persons of their present, some actually remember her in subsequent contacts. According to Casterlin, when they see her come into the room, they smile and know that she will help them with anything they need.

What might separate Casterlin from the other staff is that it’s impossible to get a smile off her face. This smile is reflected in all the residents’ faces when she is around, and it rubs off on the other staff members at SouthTowne.

“All this music today would not be happening if it wasn’t for Robin,” says Care Giver Deb Shulmine. “She brings joy and smiles to all of us. She really is the life of this place.”

Casterlin brings happiness to everyone at SouthTowne, but just as important, she brings comfort to the families who have to deal with a loved one stricken with this disease. This is not always an easy task for Casterlin, but it is one that can’t be overlooked.

“I comfort families, I cry with families,” says Casterlin. “Some families tell me, ‘this isn’t my mom, or this isn’t my dad.’ Their parents no longer know who their children are, they have become strangers, and the pain can be devastating. But I try to make them realize that they know who their parents once were and they have all those good memories with them. That is the important thing.”

Inter-action with  families  is changing because  Casterlin’s father  was  recently     diagnosed   as having  dementia. “It really puts things into perspective,” Casterlin says. “It has brought out emotions in me and now I feel I have a better perspective of the horror that accompanies a person with this disease.”

But it is the drive to make the day joyful that keeps her going. Without this will to better her surroundings, it would be hard to move forward. This is especially important in a job where people are in the last stages of their lives, struggling with the loneliness of an awful disease.

This ability to continue is critical when coping with the passing of residents with whom she has  developed emotional ties. She credits her strong faith in being able to carry on with her life.

“In my younger days I would go home and cry and cry,” explains Casterlin. “But now I look at it as a blessing for these people to get out of the horror of Alzheimer’s disease. At that moment, they get to go back to who they were.”

It may be that Casterlin’s childhood is the underlying  force that drives her today. As a child she struggled through school because she was dyslexic. According to her, high school was a real struggle, but she kept with it and persevered to the end.

“High school was hard on me, but I was always taught to follow through with whatever I was doing,” says Casterlin. “I try to stick with what needs to be done.”

Casterlin has dealt with every struggle and fight with a smile. This attitude and willpower are the forces that improve the condition of the residents.

“This would be a really depressing place if it wasn’t for Robin,” says caregiver Reva Wanstrath.

When the sun goes down each day and the residents say their good-byes to Casterlin, the mark is made, both on the residents and Casterlin herself.

“I absolutely love working with the elderly and love my job,” says Casterlin. “Sometimes I get home and I have to tell my husband that I’m on empty. But I get so much satisfaction out of this job that it is worth it.”

She makes life worth living for the residents at SouthTowne Homes. Each day, each moment, Casterlin is giving and getting, making light shine when darkness blankets the surface.

“I Try To Live With the Residents in the Moment, Giving Them Something to Smile About.”

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13 Comments - (Leave a comment! »)

  • Amy - Florida said:

    I really enjoyed the article that Brent Henzi wrote about Robin Casterlin. Brent has a way with his writing to make you feel a if you were there with him. He took what could have been a very sad and depressing subject and made it positive and inspiring. By the end of the article I wanted to go to Eugene myself and give Robin a huge hug.

  • Emily – Canada said:

    in the last couple years I’ve watched my Opa slowly start to lose control of his life because of dementia. While he’s still in the relatively early stages, it has already been incredibly hard on all parties involved, so I knew I’d be able to relate to this story.

    I was a bit disappointment when I read the story because I feel like so much more could have been done with such an emotional subject. There was a lot of telling about what this woman does and about how much she cares, as opposed to showing what she does. While the quotes from others were good and helped explain how much she does for her patients, I think that showing her interacting with her patients (like a fly on the wall watching her) would have been much more compelling and would have helped the reader get to know her better, as well as help the reader appreciate her kindness.

  • Robin - Hawaii said:

    This really transmits the emotion our heroine shares with her patients. The quotes allow a close-up look at what Alzheimer’s must be like for those of us who have never experienced caring for someone with this disease. Robin really demonstrates how valuable making the most of the “now” moment can be, especially with someone who is not always there right now. I was especially touched by her testimony of grief when her patients pass, as well as how her compassion translates their death into the peace of “going home.” Amen to that.

  • Carly - Michigan said:

    I would first like to mention that I strongly believe in the message “Winners Within Us” evokes among readers. There are so many seemingly “ordinary” people with incredible stories and accomplishments that need to be recognized. What you are doing is a wonderful service to the Michigan community.

    Brent Henzi was able to deliver a beautiful story about a woman who spends every moment of her life putting others before herself with a huge smile on her face—what is more inspirational than that? Furthermore, Henzi writes with concise diction, great quotes, and a well-organized structure. I thought the article was both heartwarming and informative. Thank you.

  • John Michael Stuart said:

    I have worked as a social worker for the past twenty years with a professional focus in caring for the elderly. Most of my college classmates wanted to get a degree in social work to be able to make a positive difference in the lives of others.

    Unfortunately, as we continue in professional roles we can run the risk of developing amnesia as to why we choose a particular service profession. Making a difference becomes routine paperwork, coping with office politics and earning a paycheck. The people we serve become case numbers with a diagnoses in place of a name with a face.

    The story of Casterlin provides a reality check as to why we chose a profession that aims to make a difference in the lives of others. Such a reality check can make us all winners! A winner is someone that doesn’t allow bureaucracy to interfere with their passion to serve. It is someone that arises each morning with a mission statement. Such a statement celebrates the dynamic processes of life instead of the dread of mundane routine. Winners develop a life of purpose, not just hours on a time clock accompanied with a paycheck.

    If we develop amnesia as to why we chose a particular human service profession, may we recall Casterlin who is the winner within us all if we will only acknowledge it.

  • Kathleen – California said:

    for the last year I have been the caregiver for my elderly parents. My Father has Diabetes and heart issues, my Mother was diagnosed with Dementia after a stroke, and they need assistance in daily life. They grow increasingly frail, separated from reality, and it is a stressful and heartbreaking to deal with my Mother’s condition and obtain for them a quality of life that includes dignity. I liked this story very much, it told about this woman with warmth and the human element was throughout the piece. It was positive, uplifting, and gave us that are dealing with Dementia and related conditions hope that someone out there really does care. I am going to put your e-magazine on suggested reading for the Alzheimer’s and Dementia support group’s list here in Redding.

    There were many articles I will go back and read after I finish sanding this to you. Your magazine is a valuable asset and covers numerous subjects, so I feel confident and comfortable referring it to others. The more I read, the more interested I become.

  • Pam – Pennsylvania said:

    I am definitely familiar with your magazine and have been a fan for some time. There are several reasons for that.

    A couple of years ago, I was hired as editor for a new magazine that focused on the joy of life in small towns across America. I came upon “Winners Within Us” while doing research and just loved the articles. Two come to mind quickly — the story about the artist who said she was a normal person in a disabled body, and the other about the woman who visited Alzheimer’s and elderly patients.

    One of my best friends suffered a stroke during childbirth and has been in a wheelchair for many years. But she is the strongest, kindest, most “normal” person I know, so that story touched my heart immensely. The other story made me cry. My mother passed away in 2006 and during the last year of her life, she had trouble recognizing her children. Caring for the elderly is a very tough, emotional job. God bless the people who do it with joy.

    That brings me to another reason for liking “Winners” — many of the stories reference God and faith, both of which play a major role in my life. What’s so wonderful is that people write about it proudly and freely in the magazine. It’s so heartening to read these stories in a world where the slightest allusion to Christianity is being censured.

  • Amanda j said:

    I think that this kind of writing is amazing, it is very important to recognize people like Robin. When I read this article I could not stop smiling, I had a grandmother with Alzheimers and I could see her smiling at the things that Robin does for the people in SouthTowne Living.

  • Dashiell said:

    This story is a good one, I think, as it informs us about a woman whose personal crusade is not only a very, very positive thing, but is one we might never have heard about. However, the writer fails to reach the (admittedly a bit lofty yet obvious) goal of showcasing the energy, fervor, and passion that Ms. Casterlin must posess to consistently follow such a positive goal. Ms. Casterlin is quite clearly someone to be admired, and I’d like to meet her (as unlikely as that is) but I don’t feel that I could adequately describe the passion that is necessary for what she does.

  • Merinda -- Washington said:

    “My philosophy focuses on quality of life,” says Casterlin. “I try to live with the residents in the moment, giving them something to smile about.” This quote stuck out to me because although i know it was only meant for this articles description, it redirected my mind to a place of momentary serenity and gave me that much more motivation.

  • Merinda -- Washington said:

    “My philosophy focuses on quality of life,” says Casterlin. “I try to live with the residents in the moment, giving them something to smile about.”.(Robin Casterlin : Caregiver Provides Love to Alzheimer’s & Dementia Patients) It seems to me that is more or less any positive writers goal and focus It stuck out to me because although i know it was only meant for that articles description, it redirected my mind to a place of momentary serenity and gave me that much more motivation.

  • Kerry said:

    Another great article that inspires people to be the best they can be.

    I love the part where she says,
    “Through music, they can get out of their disease for a moment”

    She also painted a vivid picture in the beginning of the story. What she felt when she walked through the doors.

  • Lori said:

    I am moved by the story. My sister is a nurse in a long-term care facility. She works on the Alzheimer’s unit. It is obvious that Casterlin loves her job and cares deeply for her residents. I think the writer brought out the essence of Casterlin’s devotion and love for her patients.

    The critic in me never gets pass the grammar and syntax errors. The article has many of both. The newspapers and magazines I have read are either written or edited better than those on winnerswithinus. Who is the intended audience? What is the goal of the publication? No matter how touching or heartfelt, if the article doesn’t flow or make sense, I’m either not going to read it or, I’m not going to get as much from the article.

    My critique depends upon who the audience is. However, regardless of the audience, a better written article can pull a person into the story and hopefully keep them with the publication. Home and Garden doesn’t need the same amount of “ooooh,awwww” as a publication like yours. Winnerswithinus has a more emotional, feel good draw than say Good Housekeeping or Reader’s Digest.

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