Monday, February 2, 2009

The old and the young

I have done a lot of work in Long Term Care with the elderly and many Alzheimer's patients and it is amazing how similar the elderly are to children. The elderly in particular that I am thinking of are those in various stages of dementia. Some of the similarities are comical, and some very sweet. I can readily compare the mind of elderly afflicted with dementia with the minds of children. If you do not delve into the person, you superficially see that there is a person, young or old, who does not fully understand, express what they feel or know what is going on around them. But if you give time to these people, you find there is so much inside. I have seen men wander without regard- whether down the hall or into the street, speak gibberish, kiss ladies they don't know and fall asleep in arm chairs, lunch rooms, or any one's bed. I have had many conversations with patients on the Alzheimer's unit where I worked that if they were written down into a dialog, you would probably guess that I was speaking with a toddler. Not to mention, they have lost control of their bowels and bladder, they need assistance eating, brushing teeth, changing cloths, bathing and sometimes walking about.

Sometimes my daughter collects things from around the house and puts them into trunks, cabinets, bags, purses or boxes which makes me laugh when I eventually find them. One lady on the Unit would take all the picture frames from other people's rooms and take them to her room and hide them in her drawers.
You begin to see a child's personality come through as they get older. Similarly, in the older adult you see parts of the personality that you already knew very well hang on as the older person's dementia worsens. One sweet woman didn't know her name, didn't know where her room was, forgot when she had eaten just as she stood up from the table, but part of her personality from her younger years was very apparent -she was always meticulous about cleaning and maintaining orderliness. If you looked in her room and her drawers, her cloths were all perfectly folded, down to her undergarments and socks, and her bed was perfectly made without a wrinkle everyday, by her. Both children and the demented elderly have pieces of their personality there, but not the whole picture.
There are so many stories I can think of - one more is another woman also with dementia who carried around a baby doll in her arms, which is not uncommon. My daughter loves baby dolls! - she feels like she is a little mama who can both imitate different things I do and nurture a little one herself. I remember, however, the daughter of this woman was very upset to see her mom with the baby doll because she remembered her mother growing up as being very cold and not very "touchy - feely" but now she has found comfort in being affectionate to a doll.

For me, it is infinitely interesting and rewarding to observe and interact with the elderly, especially those afflicted with Alzheimer's and Dementia. It is such an awful disease, especially for the family members and probably the patient in the early stages. But these people should never be disregarded and I give them the same time of day as other patients of sound mind. They are very special and almost return to innocence. I have heard that it is the child in all of us that is appealing - Many times in the elderly, this child takes a leading roll making them magical, simple and uniquely individual. Just like a child, they often have an imagination- they believe in it and it is OK for us to join them, just like we do with our kids.

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