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Monday, August 17, 2009

"E"-sy Does It: A Primer on Dementia

I don't care what the calendar says. There must have been a full moon last Saturday. Nothing else explains the bizarre behavior at the skilled nursing facility where Mom is staying.

At a nursing home, I've learned to tune out the moans, wails and mumblings of other residents and focus on Mom. If I can wheel a patient somewhere, or give a hug or ring for a nurse -- I do it. But otherwise, I have to tune out the excess noise.

On Saturday, a woman named Eloise wandered into Mom's room. Mom introduced her as Eloise Smith. She said Eloise Jones (I've forgotten the real names, but they were different). Mom asked is Smith was her maiden name. Eloise got a confused look on her face, said "That was a long time ago," and then started talking about a boy. She stood in a muddle, unclear where she was or why she was there, so I offered to take her back to her room.

Out in the hallway, I encountered two more E's: Evelyn and Edna. They had joined their wheelchairs in a fierce battle. Whenever Edna tried to move past Evelyn, Evelyn turned to block her passage. Evelyn accused Edna of stealing her blankets.

Eloise couldn't remember her room. And we couldn't get past the wheelchairs.

The blankets belonged to the nursing facility. But Evelyn had it in her mind that they were her blankets. When a nurse's aide intervened, she grumbled. "I'll sell them up north. I can get better prices there."

It was funny and sad, both at the same time.

I joked to Mom, "Is there an Emily, Esther or Earlene?" And thanked God that Mom's mind is sharp, she lives in today, even if she sometimes forgets small things. She is alert and positive, much more so than when I first arrived in Oklahoma.

I walk by a room full of patients every time I go to see Mom. They recognize me, smile, greet me. I feel shame for my previous perception of the elderly living in nursing homes: scary, unattractive, ... unworthy of my time or attention. Only as I see my mother's slide and I catch an Edna or an Evelyn on a good day, do I recognize these people are also God's children. Precious treasures who have lived full lives and deserve respect and love.

And the day comes every closer that I will join their ranks ... and pray someone will still love me.

1 comment:

Momstheword said...

Thank you for this entry. I have been involved in nursing home ministries for 35 years through our church. I also have worked in nursing homes in Activities. You just have to go with the flow, more or less, suiting yourself to the mood of the dementia patient. Go where they are at the moment. We used to call one strategy "creative deception", which was an attempt to distract them from unacceptable situations. If you go back towards the beginning of my blog, I shared several stories about some people I knew and loved. Thanks again. You have great insight.