I took the chair and pulled it behind the couple as an aide helped me lower the woman into her chair.
Once she was settled safely in her chair, I looked up at him. “What are you doing?” I asked him, as calmly as I could. “She was about to fall,” I added.
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By Rachael Wonderlin
Alzheimer's Reading Room
“I’m trying to get her to walk,” he explained, pointing to his mother, who could barely sit up straight in her wheelchair. “See, she keeps wanting to use the wheelchair, but I know she can walk. I don’t want her to forget how to walk.”
The resident in question, Beth, did not know how to walk anymore—she barely knew how to speak. She motioned and gestured often, but it was clear that Beth was in an extremely advanced stage of dementia. What she “remembered” was questionable, but what was not questionable was her ability to walk—she just could not do that safely.
“Here’s the thing,” I sighed. “I know that we’ve talked about this before, but it’s really not safe to try and get Beth to walk. She is going to get hurt, and you might end up injuring yourself, too,” I said.
Beth’s family always pushed the envelope with regards to her care. They could not seem to understand that she was unable to do the things she used to do.
I understood their desire to keep her “in our world” as much as possible, but the fact remained that Beth had dementia. She was unable to eat what she used to eat, move how she used to move, and speak how she used to speak.
While I tried to remain understanding, it was difficult. I felt as though her family was truly putting her health in danger if they continued to push her to do things that she just could not do.
The most striking thing this man had said was, “I don’t want her to forget.”
He did not realize that this was part of the disease process. That Beth, despite all of their work to prevent it, would forget.
Her brain would forget, and her body would forget. I wished that there was an easier way to explain this to them. Perhaps if they embraced this sad reality, their visits with Beth would be less complicated and far less dangerous.
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*Rachael Wonderlin is the Director of Memory Care at Blue Harbor Senior Living, and specializes in long term dementia care. She graduated from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro with a Master’s degree in Gerontology. She writes and answers questions from readers at Dementia By Day.
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