Friday, January 23, 2009


I am sure by now that everyone is aware I work in a memory care unit aka... dementia unit. We are NOT a nursing home as I have to reinforce to everyone but then what is the difference? We look like one... old people sitting around. And we certainly smell like one, although if you come on certain days it might be cinnamon flavored pee smell and then again it might be flower pee smell...depends on the choice of air freshener. But we are really very different. And why do I love it so much.

Dementia is the inability to perform your activities of daily living ie: bathing, dressing, eating, working, etc and is caused by many things. Vascular dementia ( stroke etc.), parkinson's dementia, alchohol induced dementia, lewey body dementia and then of course alzheimer's. But the main thing is that it is the death of certain parts of the brain. It is not typical in the aging process. Our youngest resident is 58 years old!!!! that is only 4 years older than me. He was the CFO of a large national retail chain. He began to notice that he could not remember his bosses name and then he was having a hard time with numbers. This was progressing over a few years until his son found him in a garage where he had been for days because he forgot where he was and how to get out. Now he cannot operate the remote on a TV and cannot remember how to use utensils so he is going onto finger foods. Our oldest is a spry 91 year old woman who loves to shop at Chico's, wears groovy looking jewlery but unfortunately hears the voice of a man who is an alcoholic and wants her money. All auditory hallucinations. Then we have everything inbetween.

It is a wonderful place to work. Never a dull moment. I had noticed for many weeks that Miss M. was only laying around and not responding. One day, I was in the day room when the piano player came and I started to sing and dance ( yes, it was not a pretty site as I twirled around belting out she'll be coming round the mountain) But lo and behold Miss M. perked up and began to sing with me. Then we found out she could sing bicycle built for two and many other songs. Now she is one of our favorite kareoke singers.

I dance with all of the residents and how funny it is to dance with the men. We will start to slow dance and pretty soon their hands are patting my bottom... some things are never forgotten. The men break out into big grins when they get their morning kisses from me and especially if they have been just shaved. One of my favorite men used to be a colonol in the military. He is non-verbal but will come and join us in our meetings and will stand there in the at ease stance. He can stand for HOURS... it is amazing. But do not come up and startle him because he has knocked several of our residents flat with his fist.

Ms. E. loves her baby doll and will sit and stare at it for hours and will rock it and hold it. Unfortunately Ms. I also likes this particular baby and she is into kidnapping the baby. Often we will have Amber alerts for the missing baby. We usually find it in Ms. E's dresser drawer where it is being held hostage and then we have to set up a decoy to make a switch. During the holiday season we had a little stuffed boy Christmas ornament sitting on the piano. Ms. P. came to me and gave me two dollars and told me to give it to that poor little boy sitting there because no one was looking out after him. She also told me that he must be a poor little "bastard" child from the streets. She was so happy when I let her take the little 'bastard boy" into her room and he spent the holiday nicely cared for as he rode around in the basket of her walker.

I love to write airline tickets to Greenville so Ms. M will take a bath without screaming like a banchee. She proudly comes into my office nice and clean and I present her with the next ticket to Greenville so she can go home to see her mother ( who has been dead for umpteen years.) I also write out dry cleaning tickets to Ms. I. who will only wear the same clothing unless the dry cleaning service comes to get them. But she is fine if she has her ticket. Unfortunately, someone came in and stole her hair. She wanted some of mine but then we decided that my hair was not as pretty of a color and would not look good if I gave her any.

It is a happy place. The young guy dismantles all of our fire alarms. He also sets off all of the door alarms ( we are a locked facility)... He figured out how to crawl out of his bedroom window but ended up in the locked court yard. Bummer. It must have been like digging that hole to china and then finding that you are still within the walls.

Ms. V. forgets where the bathroom is. She came into my office and pooped on my upholstered chair. Then pulled her depends up and went on... Good job Ms. V. !!!!at least you remembered you needed to sit somewhere before you poop. That was probably the most comfortable toilet seat she had ever sat on.

What can you learn from this disease. These people teach me so much every day. They have taught me that living in the moment is a good thing. There is no yesterday at my work. There is only yesterday for all of us poor people who still remember. If they poop in my chair there is no lingering horror of having made a mistake. There is also no tomorrow or even the next hour. All there is is right now. Right this very minute and what is going on. I give Mr. B. a big hug and kiss and he smiles from ear to ear. Then I walk away and 5 minutes later come back and it is another moment to give him a big hug and kiss and allow him to smile from ear to ear because he has forgotten the first one and is seeing me again for the first time. Every thing is a moment.

It has made me stop and think of what I do with my moments. Do I add joy or make it a sad moment? Life to me is a little less complicated when broken down into moments.


G'pa and G'ma Woody said...

OHHHHHH, Gaye!!! I DO remember these patients!!! And I remember how fond I was of them and the joy and satisfaction they brought in my life. I only worked in nursing homes...not to be confused with your facility...for a few short years. But I truly loved those people. (I almost called them patients...but they are PEOPLE first!) They filled my life with so much color and texture and unforgettable memories. Thanks for giving us a glimpse into that wonderful world of today, this minute. I LOVED IT!!! Love, Jane

Jeni said...

oh...I am bawling and laughing at the same time. What a beautiful description of these beautiful people...and thanks for reminding me to enjoy the "moments" in my life.

Misty said...

I just found your blog! Good for you to enjoy your job so much. I think that there is a very special place in heaven for nursery/Sunbeam teachers, scout leaders and people who volunteer to work with special needs people. You should be exalted now!
As for me, does my severe memory loss mean the start of dementia? I think I have part-timers all ready!
Thanks for keeping me entertained!

annie said...

funny and wise, as always.