I am heartbroken when I see the elderly, particularly those who have been stricken with Dementia, Alzheimers or other memory impairment, alone, day after day. At the beginning, family visits often. They want to make sure they visit while the person can “still remember who they are.” Once they start losing that ability, the visits slow down and the often are far and few between. For many elders, they receive no visitors.
I can totally see how it can happen, however. I visit my dad daily, often for 2-4 hours. Trust me, it isn’t always that fun. I have many, many other ways I could spend my days. In my dad’s case, his language is impaired, so for much of the time we “converse” but I have no idea what he is trying to communicate to me. So I improvise. I nod my head A LOT. I tell him I will check on “it.” What is “it?” It could be anything that I perceive he is worried about. Even if I have no idea what he is worried about, I do whatever I can to make sure HE ISN’T WORRIED.
I make sure he gets outside every day the weather cooperates. I get him out of his wheelchair and walk with him to make sure he is getting enough exercise. But mostly I sit with him and talk to him. It’s silly, really because we often end up having parallel conversations. I tell him about what is new in my life (and believe me there isn’t much from day to day) and then he responds back with a sentence that doesn’t relate to anything we were talking about. It’s an interesting phenomenon to experience, believe me. The worst is when he asks me a direct question and because I have no idea what he is asking me, I have to make something up that responds to his question just a little bit. But really, who knows what he is asking me?
I talk to him about his parents. We talk about trips he took – things that he still has a grasp on. The other day, he told me that his dad was a pig farmer…that he bought and sold pigs. That was the first I had heard that. I only knew my Grandpa as the owner of Light Furniture in Denver CO. I will be checking on this factoid as I am intrigued to find out if this could possibly have been true.
When people stop visiting because they think their loved one no longer knows them, they think, “what’s the point?”
HERE’S THE POINT
We are the bridge. It is our job to help him remember his life, even as it slips farther and farther out of reach. My dad is still very much in there, despite his language difficulties and his inability to remember anything for more than 10 minutes.
So, the next time you say “What’s the point?” Remember that YOU ARE HIS BRIDGE. Pick up the phone and call. Visit. It matters.