I frequently have the occasion to visit one of my Memory/Dementia Care homes to meet with staff, attend a party, or just stop in and say hi. I love these visits immensely, but I sometimes leave with a profound sense of concern and often real sadness over some of the residents I interact with. I can picture one gentleman in particular as he shuffled around, obviously looking for something, with a confused and bewildered look upon his face. I walked with him for a few minutes engaging him in conversation, assisting him on his search, never finding what he was looking for. The truth is he probably didn’t know what he was looking for and whatever it is, it most likely doesn’t exist. I desperately tried to put myself in his situation and imagine what it must be like to experience that level of confusion.
Now, let’s rewind back to about 2004. In a moment of weakness I signed my oldest daughter and I up for some snowboarding lessons. Everything went well, until the very last hour of the very last lesson. My desire for exhilaration exceeded my ability to navigate a snowboard and down I went. Hard! Not overly concerned about safety back then, I of course was not wearing a helmet. I know, I know, not good. I woke up some time later thanks to the vigorous shaking of a couple passersby and rather embarrassed, I hurried off to find my daughter and head home. The rest of the story gets a little fuzzy here, but I’m told by the next day I was acting rather peculiar, and was quickly ushered off to the hospital by my sweet wife. My diagnosis was quick and easy. I had suffered a severe concussion. My punishment for my poor choice was a whole week at home. No work, no driving, no TV, noises, or undue mental stimulation. Oddly enough, I remember that week and the extreme confusion, aimlessly wandering around, utter brain fog, and just general mental instability. Does that sound familiar to my gentleman friend above? My wife reports that it was the sweetest I’ve ever been. Hmmph! Maybe so, but my normally sharp wit had been replaced with confusion and bewilderment.
Please understand, I am not implying that my short stint with head trauma is the same thing as someone suffering from dementia, but I can sympathize, perhaps even on just a small scale. To feel diminished and weak, like something is wrong, but not knowing quite what it is, was very real and somewhat scary. But, unlike those that suffer from real dementia, I knew that with time I would be back to my normal behavior with full mental acuity. That whole experience is now just a vague memory.
I suppose that’s why I experience sadness when I see our residents, who were once strong and proud. They are now left suffering, struggling for answers that never come, looking for things that will never be there, and caught somewhere between reality and the vague recesses of their mind. A week off from the cares of the world will not make their condition get better. The reality is their condition worsens.
At The Cottages we understand that those with dementia require extra time, patience, and understanding. That is why our caregivers are number 1 to me! They know that all seniors, regardless of their presence of mind, deserve dignity, understanding, and love. We love all of our residents. We especially love our Memory Care Residents!
Mark Maxfield, CEO/President