Dementia is a category of people who, because of age, have bodies which no longer function “normally” and the medical professionals tell you that this process cannot be cured, it will only continue to get worse. At some point people may lose their ability to take care of themselves.
Two years after my father passed, my mother had a stroke suffering severe memory damage and expressive aphasia. I don’t think she understood what happened to her but she did know something happened. She was intelligent and always sought to understand things and she spent a lot of time trying to figure out what happened. We talked about it often.
While she was in hospital I used to stay her apartment, in the bathroom above the toilet was a photo of her husband, my father. They had been high school sweethearts and were married for almost 60 years. A snapshot taken a few years earlier was ataped to a Japanese antique lamp in the living room
Elder people may live independently in their own home or in a retirement complex or live in assisted living where there is a staff to provide help for residents basic daily needs—in both of these the resident can make decisions for themselves and the door to the outside world is not locked.
Then there is “memory care,” where people cannot make decisions for themselves, but basically they can do some things on their own such as walk around — but the door to the outside is locked. Next there is “skilled nursing care” where residents need special medical attention and there is a doctor on staff.
Mom lived in a memory care facility near me for three and a half years.
The residence was close and my wife and I spent time every day with her.
After lunch or dinner we might sit down and talk. The conversation did not always make literal sense but we both enjoyed as much of it as possible
Sometimes we would return from lunch, she look out the window and tell me what she saw, this seemed to make her happy to be able to identity the things outside the window although because of the expressive aphasia condition her words rarely made literal sense. She seemed to find some personal satisfaction.
In this situation you may have some very personal experiences with someone,
and even though they may not be able to express themselves clearly in words it is necessary to try to understand what they are going through. They may not even be able to tell you they are feeling pain or discomfort . You have to watch closely for signs of physical or emotional problems to catch them as soon as possible.
Mom had an operation on her hip and was in a skilled nursing facility doing rehab for eight weeks “re-learning how to walk.” I would be there for the physical therapy exercises. No matter what the difficulty she never gave up trying, and was able to walk again. She had always been a “high achiever,” sometimes I romanticized the memory loss was her body dealing with the problems from the stroke.
Sometimes we would go to the emergency room, I might be woken in the middle of the night or be called during a business meeting, you would never know when, but you always have to be available . Outside of being out of town for matters concerning her affairs, I was never more than an hour away—if she was in ER then medical decisions usually would have to be made and procedures approved.
When you go to ER, you never knew how long you might be there, a few hours to overnight, she might return home, other times she might be admitted to hospital.
As time passed her physical condition deteriorated . . .
Whatever happens may not make sense but being there is an honor and privilege that not everyone gets an opportunity to experience, It may seem difficult . . .
and sometimes it my seem a comfort hand is all you have to give.
And then again there are the times when a smile is a most precious reward.
After lunch we might return to mom’ s room, while she was usually ready to nap. She would sit on the bed and we would spend some time talking. She would usually just try to fall into the bed, but that did not work so well—she might miss— so I taught her how to line the walker up parallel to lines in the carpet, backup and plop down.
One day she asked me again what happened to her, I explained, again, she had a stroke. Usually, no always, she strongly denied it but this time she accepted it. She asked me “Did I have children?”—generally I do not think she understood I was her son, I was someone who was regularly there.
I answer yes, and she replied, “That was nice, I am glad, I loved them.”
I met many good people along the way, some in a similar situation, others not so financially fortunate as my parents for whom it was a daily economic struggle but they did it regardless. And for the care givers in the facilities, it must be very hard to daily take care of people’s very basic needs and then they die. And then as J. Browne sings, “you get up and do it again.”
I was fortunate to have this experience.