She is wandering the halls, up one side and down the other, through each hallway on the unit. Her pace is average, pushing her walker in front of her as she goes. This is not abnormal, usually after every meal she takes a stroll before retiring to her recliner in her room. But this time something is different, behind those eyes I can see questions.
“Hello Miss D____, how are you?”
“Do you know me?”
“Yes, I’ve known you for a while now.”
Relief washes over her face.
“Who am I? What is my name?”
“You are Miss D____, you live here.”
“Where am I and why am I here? I’m so confused!”
This just breaks my heart, and it is a sign that her dementia may be advancing. I put my arm around her and guide her to her room. I show her the photos of people who love her, and she begins to recognize her environment. Sadly a day will come when these things mean nothing to her, the memories she has will be from long ago and she’ll be fearful and grow less cooperative, loosing more of her current or recent memories as they die off with her brain that is slowly dying in her head, leaving her trapped in a time and place long ago that doesn’t mesh with what her eyes see now. She’ll talk about going home, that her parents will worry about her, and she has things to do before bed because she has school in the morning. No amount of effort will help her understand she is in 2016 and not 1940 something. In fact to suggest it, or tell her she is 90+ and her parents have died long ago will only upset her more and cause a complete, emotional melt down. Instead we work and “live” with her right where she is at the moment. We comfort her with the tools in our ‘tool belts’ that we’ve been given, acknowledging and validating her fears and concerns, gently redirecting her by asking her to tell us about mom and dad, who are they, what are they like, and sometimes she goes down what she has of memory lane and things calm down. And every day we will do it all over again, as we are brand new to her each morning, and have to gain her trust all over again as strangers once more.
This is what keeps me doing my job. It breaks my heart for these souls, and I cannot imagine not being there to help them get bathed, dressed, hair fixed and some lipstick on or face shaved. The smiles when I say “wow, you look so beautiful today!”, and the hugs for giving them a few moments of joy.
The pay in this job totally sucks, at or just above minimum wage and topping out in most facilities well below where we should be. One doesn’t work this profession to get wealthy. It is a calling, a ministry, for some of us, our hearts and souls go into what we do. For others it is a paycheck because they can’t or won’t pursue something better. The kind of care shown the residents will tell any observer where the aide falls as far as working for the next smile or the next dollar. There are days when it is so hard to do this, being short staffed and working with those who are only there to get paid, lazy as the day is long and unable to grasp that these folks are people, lost inside damaged minds that are shrinking day by day, they NEED us to be loving, patient and kind. They need to be cared for from the heart, because this damn disease is robbing them of who they are, were and could still be. It steals their memories, their security, their livelihood and leaves them empty and frightened.
That is why I am here, standing between the present and their past, trying to make what they have left as wonderful as possible.