Shelley Sheppard was just 43 years old when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. She’s been living with the condition for more than two years and doing her best to keep her mind sharp and stay active. And one of the ways she’s doing that is with her new job as a waitress at the Pieminister restaurant in Nottinghamshire.
Even for those of us with the best memories, being a waitress can be a hard job. Servers don’t just have to remember who ordered what; they also have to remember to refill drinks and clean tables, memorize the layout of the restaurant and the table numbers, and know the menu so they can answer customers’ questions. With all the little jobs a waiter or waitress has to balance, it’s a surprise that the restaurant would consider hiring someone with dementia, and that someone with dementia would consider taking on the challenge.
In honor of Dementia Action Week, the Alzheimer’s Society has been challenging people with the disease to try new things to help them stay sharp, keep them from getting lonely, and show the rest of the world how much they can still do, in spite of the disease. Luckily, Shelley was up for the challenge, and the Pieminster was happy to have her as a waitress.
Pieminster and Shelley are proving that with the right support, people with Alzheimer’s and other disabilities can be successful at a wide variety of jobs. Although Shelley sometimes struggles to find the right words to say and has trouble writing orders, she’s a fantastic waitress with the help of her friendly co-workers to remind her of things when she forgets.
Shelley’s coworkers affectionately refer to her as “Dory,” like the character from Finding Nemo who suffers from short-term memory loss. Shelley wears a special pin on her shirt to let her customers know that they may need to be patient with her because of her Alzheimer’s. She is excited to show people that she can still contribute a lot to her work environment, even with her condition.
“I’m a little bit nervous, but I’m enjoying it at the same time,” says Shelley. “I think for me it’s taking the orders and writing them down. My spelling and my writing isn’t what it used to be. I’ve lost that ability there.”
Shelley has already run into a great deal of stigma since she’s been diagnosed. Sometimes people talk to her husband instead of her, assuming she won’t be able to communicate well or will forget everything she’s told. Her new job is helping reduce the misunderstandings surrounding her disease.
“Many people are worried about ‘saying the wrong thing’ to someone with dementia, yet a friendly face or listening ear can make the world of difference,” says Anne Graves, Alzheimer’s Society services manager in Nottinghamshire.
“Even in the later stages of dementia when having a conversation might become difficult, keeping in touch can bring feelings of happiness and comfort, especially as the ’emotional memory’ remains with them long after the memory of the visit may have gone.”
Check out the video below to learn more about Shelley’s job and how she’s getting out of her comfort zone for a better life!
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?