I want you to imagine that you’re at home with your kids. You’ve cooked them breakfast and are preparing to send them off to school. Your husband kisses you goodbye as he heads out to work and you load the kids in the car to take them to their studies. Your children engage you in conversation about the abandonment they feel is coming as you approach the school doors. You then console any worries they have by saying you’ll be returning after the last bell rings as you give them goodbye hugs and tell them to mind their manners. As the last child disappears into the school, you feel a freedom you hadn’t before. The day is yours to spend as you choose.
After doing a few chores at home you venture out to town, visiting the post office, library, and finally the market to grab some missing dinner ingredients. You’re in aisle 3 comparing the price vs lbs ratio on some pasta and out of the corner of your eye a lady in scrubs is approaching you holding a cup of pills. It’s odd. She calls you by name but you don’t recognize her. You look around and no longer recognize where you are and you can’t seem to find an exit. The lady in scrubs has a friendly affect and she knows your name so you confide in her, asking where you are and how to get home. You have children to tend to remember… you need to pick them up from school or they’ll be lost and abandoned just as they suspected they would be this morning when you dropped them off!
What you don’t remember that also happened this morning is that your children are now in their fifties, one of which even came to have breakfast with you, your husband has passed away and you’ve been living in a nursing facility for over 10 years. That friendly nurse has brought you a cup of pills to help manage the effects of Alzheimer’s although there is no cure. But that’s just it, you don’t remember these things. This morning you were 40 years younger and you can’t be convinced otherwise. Not with a mirror, not with photographs or videos. This stuff is all some sort of witchcraft to manipulate you. The government has taken you hostage. It’s mind control at its finest.
Approximately 10 years ago I was introduced to this disease while working at a skilled nurses facility. I watched an elderly woman roam the halls for hours searching for an exit, she wouldn’t eat lunch and when dinner came around I tried encouraging it to her and through her blood shot eyes and damp cheeks from the tears shed that day she said, ‘How can I eat when I know my children are out there hungry and waiting for me at home?’ She pleaded with me to help her find her way home. I remember going into the staff lounge that night and praying for peace for this woman.
Treat the people you do know suffering from this disease with understanding and patience. Enter their reality and do whatever it takes to ease their worries, ‘Billy called he’s staying at your moms tonight because there’s a storm coming, and the bus isn’t running right now so we are giving you a free nights stay here!’ The way you approach this situation could determine the rest of this persons day, make sure you approach it with a kind heart! And heed my warning when I say do NOT try to bring them into your reality, you will not win. This is a disease, their cognitive state has taken them to another time and telling them they cannot leave to go home is a declaration of war. You’ve just put their children’s lives in mortal danger, they will starve or be kidnapped on the way home from school. And if this is the approach you choose to take, be prepared for a fight. These elderly people may not look like they have much fight in them but put a threat like this on their kids lives and you’ll be in a battle for your own soon. That cortisol stress response will turn that frail old lady into a MMA fighter with the snap of a finger. Trust me, I’ve had the wind knocked right out of me… ‘Easy wasper, I’m just trying to love you!’
I’ll have to credit my mom for the passion she has instilled in me to love and understand our elders. She was the Attending provider for NHC while I was growing up and often let me round with her. I was able to contract her contagious kindness and knowledge that she has for this disease process. There is nothing more humbling than working in this field. We’ve discovered effective coping strategies and distraction techniques but no cure to this day. So today hold your family closer, cherish the time you have with them and thank God for your cognitive well being. Because in 10 minutes you could be the one waking up in a different time, place, and without your loved ones.