“Those with dementia are still people and they still have stories and they still have character and they are all individuals and they are all unique. And they just need to be interacted with on a human level.”
– Carey Mulligan
I sat with my mom this morning at the breakfast table along with two of her lady friends. Another resident walked into the dining room and looked around for a place to sit. Her eyes passed by our table, as her usual table of six was already full. She then walked over to us, graciously asked if she could join our table, sat down and said good morning to everyone. At that moment I suddenly recalled myself doing the same thing when my mom first moved into memory care. I would steer her towards a table with “more able” residents who could still talk, even if the conversations didn’t make a whole lot of sense. I was looking for normal – whatever that might be in memory care!
I look back now at those first few months at Conifer House – how I sized up other residents to see how my mom compared to them. How were her skills compared to theirs? She still talked pretty well, could read (without real comprehension), was socially engaged and moved around the facility with ease. I saw her as much higher functioning than many of the residents and I secretly wondered if maybe I’d made a mistake – maybe she didn’t belong here. I knew better though – because she’d gone on a two mile “walk-about” just a few months before – looking for home, her house in San Diego.
So here we are now, more than a year-and-a half later, immersed into the daily life and routine of memory care. Residents have come and gone, some passing away and others moving on for other reasons. Measuring up doesn’t seem so important to me anymore and not just because my mom is “less able” than when she moved to Conifer House. I’ve learned there are ways to communicate without words being exchanged – a gentle touch, an offer to push a wheelchair or a sweet smile. I’ve observed people sitting next to each other, enjoying either other’s company without a word being spoken. I’ve watched as a resident pushed my mom’s wheechair through the hallways to calm her down. I watched as another resident approached my mom, took her outstretched hand and said, “you’re okay now, you’re doing better, just relax your legs.”
The residents in this memory care community all have Alzheimer’s disease or some form of dementia. I’ve learned, and continue to learn as each day passes, that every resident’s personhood is still relevant, even with their dementia. Some days they may squabble, but most days they care and support each other in ways that I am privileged to witness. They deserve my respect without regard to their “ableness” as a living, breathing human being. Their dignity, likes and dislikes still matter, even if they can’t remember where they are.