Videos of puppies and babies inundate social media! Having experienced both the joy of caring for puppies and the challenges of raising babies, I’m struck by the immense effort both demand. Despite the sleepless nights (thanks to babies and puppies alike), the chilly walks in the rain (a puppy’s preference), and the inevitable messes to clean up (common to both), we readily shower them with love and attention. Frustration is par for the course, yet we willingly embrace the adorable moments that make it all worthwhile.

But why do we do this?

Recruiting with Storytelling

Puppies and babies possess a unique ability to enlist us for the demanding tasks of their care. I term it “recruit-ability.” While their cuteness undeniably plays a role, there’s more to it. Each puppy and baby embodies an unfolding story, marked by new achievements, potential, and a future in the making. Questions about their appearance, growth, and future experiences create a narrative that captivates us.

Our own life stories are encapsulated in the narratives we weave about ourselves. Stories not only captivate others but also, I believe, mobilize them to care about us. This holds true for individuals at any age, particularly those grappling with Alzheimer’s disease or cognitive diseases. Individuals on the path of cognitive decline are acutely aware of their increasing reliance on others, even as they resist it. They require the support and assistance of family, friends, and even strangers, especially professionals who become integral to their lives. So how might people living with dementia share their stories and recruit our support? How can they increase their “recruit-ability factor?”

To Whom I May Concern®: A recruitment opportunity

To Whom I May Concern® provides a storytelling and performance channel for individuals living with dementia to enlist the support of others. As participants share their stories, care partners in the audience lend undivided attention — no interruptions, just pure listening. Through this attentive listening, spouses, children, neighbors, and professionals in the audience are drawn in and recruited. The Talk Back session that follows the performance further attests to the compelling power of these narratives.

  • Spouse: “I’m so proud of you for sharing your story. I hear you.”
  • Social Worker: (teary-eyed) “I’m so sorry for not listening to your stories before.”
  • Daughter: “I wish I had heard these stories when I was caring for my mother.”

Stories, I believe, are the secret ingredient that engages others to stand by us, be it in sickness or in health. To Whom I May Concern® places the spotlight on individuals sharing their stories during a time of increasing need. If we lend an ear, we can’t help but be recruited!

By Maureen Matthews, RN, PhD