Just as many of you experience, we currently have a very challenging younger resident struggling with the impact of Alzheimer’s disease. She has early onset and it has aggressively attacked her. Any sign of the woman she once was is gone. 

Her ability to understand has also left her. Physically she is strong; in every other part of her world she is weak. Not to say there aren’t bright spots in her day; there are. We work tirelessly to recreate as many as possible. However, this disease that robs so many of so much has left her vacant and confused. 

When we have a resident who struggles and needs more one-on-one attention, team members often put out a request to all of us to assist whenever we may be able to find time in our schedules. We do this because it’s the right thing to do. It takes extra time and patience, but it is the reason we are all here. 

Many of us in leadership need reminders and a little push to leave our desks and remember what draws us to this work. 

Although my walk with her the other day was quiet, there was comfort and joy in knowing that I was there for her in that moment. For those minutes I was the one to connect with her, if only through a few glances, and she searched for answers. 

I’m not a poet, and I don’t claim to be. But as I reflected on this walk, these words came to me. 

We walk together in silence.

Exchange glances.

Some smiles.

Some confusion.

A simple laugh, a look, then a look away.

Shuffled steps.

Unsure balance.



Why do you have to go on walks?

I get to go on walks.

Leadership when no one and everyone is watching.

Next month, all across the country we walk to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease in the  Walk to End Alzheimer’s. This is one aspect of the work we do, but there are many others. 

This has everything to do with leadership. Walking the walk is a catch phrase we often hear with leadership. I would challenge you to walk in the shoes of those we serve. Try to understand the unimaginable. 

I was caught off guard when someone asked me, “Why are you going on a walk with a resident?” As if my “position” somehow made me too important to go on walks. Why would I not? As leaders, walking the walk isn’t just walking the halls; it’s walking with those we serve and being there when we need to be. 

Taking a few minutes to be still and be with those we serve is leadership. It’s the right thing to do and it reminds of us why we are here — to be the smile in a time of confusion if only for a few fleeting moments. 

Julie Thorson’s was the 2018 recipient of the LeadingAge Dr. Herbert Shore Outstanding Mentor of the Year award. Her “Living Leadership” blog was named the 2016 “Best New Department” Bronze Award winner by the American Society of Health Publication Editors. The president and CEO of Friendship Haven, a life plan community in Fort Dodge, IA, Thorson is a coach’s daughter at heart. A former part-time nursing home social worker, she is a licensed nursing home administrator and has been a participant in LeadingAge’s Leadership Academy.