Years ago, when I was CNA, I worked in the Alzheimer Unit for four years. It was a place that I loved and I learned about life and nursing. You had to become good at bribes, distraction, negotiation, break downs, agitation, sadness and grief. Every day was different and you learned how to use all of those pretty quickly. The unit also taught me about love, family, hope and just the effort families would go through visiting their loved ones. I remember one woman who would come and visit her husband every single day, without fail. Even with his end stage dementia, she could still bring a smile to his face.
My favorite residents were the ones that did not have any family come and visit them. Even though it has been almost twenty years ago, I can still picture them and their names. Ethel, who always had perfect hair and a slight drool, would ask me if I had seen her mother today. John, who had a stroke and would only allow me to get him dressed and would never seem to hit me, like the other staff. If I didn’t have him on my schedule, I would trade him for someone else. He couldn’t communicate, but every time he would see me, he would start to cry. I adored him and no one could understand. There was Helene, who was very aggressive and hit me in the head so hard one day, I saw my very first stars. We became friends after that and when she was having a very bad day, we would talk about her family and she would slowly start to calm down.
I miss those days of 1:1 care. I believe those four years were the best thing that could have happened to me and made me want to continue my education with nursing. It has helped me understand this disease and prepared me for my journey with Mom.
When you have a loved one that is battling some kind of disease, whether it be AD, Parkinson’s, Cancer, Stroke…the list can go on. I know that it can be hard to visit them. The unknown is a very powerful thing. Your friend or loved one may look different, act strangely, move in a way you are not used to or may forget who you are. You need to prepare yourself for that.
My brother has not visited my Mom for a while. I am not going to fault him for that. I know that when you get a diagnosis of a disease, fear sometimes can overtake you. It can be very difficult to watch your loved one change. I think that this has been very hard for him. I reminded him not long ago, that she is still in there. She still looks the same, but may not remember your name. She is still our beautiful, funny, coffee loving mother.
He came to see her last Saturday, a beautiful perfect day. He and his friend Heather arrived and I prepped Mom by stating his name, in case she forgot. He was very nervous. I showed him around, introduced him to the staff and her dog, Matilda. We also spent some time outside and Mom really enjoyed it.
I haven’t asked him to do much with her care, though any help is greatly appreciated. The hard part of me being a nurse is that he just lets me make the hard choices with her. His unspoken job is to call her, one expense I will keep so they can communicate on his terms.
At times, this is difficult for me. For twenty plus years, I watch families and friends not visit for whatever reason they have. I have heard all of the excuses and at times, I want to shout at them to just visit. Even if you stay for five minutes, one hour or spend the day with them, you will never know how it will touch them. For that amount of time, you have shown them that you care. Even if they don’t know who you are, I believe that they feel your love and attention. For that moment in time for them, you are in their world, you are present for them and you make them feel worthy. And that is really what it’s all about.