Two years ago Laura Luna, 42 and mother of three young children, started working as a caretaker for Doug Cheek, now 76, who is afflicted with Alzheimer’s. One day she had difficulty finding childcare, so she brought along her toddler to work. The instant chemistry between Doug and now 4-year old Royal was palpable, and the two are now unlikely, but inseparable, best friends.
Laura recalled, “I was called to Doug’s home one day as there was an emergency so I had to bring Royal. At first I was worried as I had just started the job and didn’t want to seem unprofessional. But they just gravitated towards each other and had instant chemistry, it was so nice to see.”
Doug’s wife Tay, 76, also saw how the two connected, and asked Laura to bring Royal to all her shifts. “I think having someone young around has helped Doug as it gives him a sense of responsibility and he loves teaching Royal new things and reading him books,” Laura said.
A grandfather of two, Doug was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s five years ago. Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive disorder that causes the brain cells to degenerate, or waste away, and die. This causes problems with memory, thinking, and behavior, and affects a person’s ability to function independently.
Realizing the needed for a professional caretaker, Doug and Tay hired Laura, who had the skills and experience necessary to manage the progression of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Since Royal’s grandparents didn’t leave nearby, Laura also thought it might be a good idea to bring Royal more often. He brought so much joy to Doug, who then became a wonderful grandfather figure to the young child.
The two became fast friends, and are now inseparable! According to Laura, “They love going to the beach, playing a memory card game, and reading, which helps keep Doug’s brain stimulated. It has been really sweet to watch their friendship unfold, they almost speak their own language and have a secret handshake.”
The two are so close that Doug topped the list of friends invited to Royal’s fourth birthday party. They are so inseparable that Royal even dreams of living full time with his best friend. “I have overheard Royal tell his friends about Doug and always asks why we can’t all live together which is super sweet,” Laura explained.
Though the two always have a good time, some days can be more challenging. Doug often gets confused, and this affects his interactions with others, including Royal. And like all children, Royal can sometimes be distressed as well. “Some days are tougher than others, it’s not always rainbows and unicorns. When Royal is having a hard day and crying or upset about something it can throw Doug off too.” But Laura and the inseparable duo have a strategy for getting through difficult moments. “We go to the beach and jump in the waves, and everyone’s mood shifts.”
At such a young age, Royal has yet to understand the complicated disease that has taken over Doug. Their time together, however, has created tremendous compassion for his elderly best friend. “Royal doesn’t understand what is wrong with Doug but he says ‘I know you have an ‘owie’ on your brain, but I am going to help you.’ It is great to be able to teach my son how important it is to always be of service to others through this care taking job. It has taught Royal to be compassionate and empathetic.”
This heartwarming friendship has changed the two families’ lives forever. “Tay calls me her lifesaver and says their lives have changed since we have met and even the doctors have noticed Doug is happier.” Things may change when Royal starts going to school, but for now, the two remain inseparable and are looking forward to more adventures together!