Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Finding Home

Corner of Dad's new room
Where do you feel most 'at home'?  For the patient with dementia, that can be a difficult question to answer.  Although surroundings may be somewhat familiar, finding one's way around the familiar can suddenly become UNfamiliar.  They will often start by commenting before they go somewhere such as, "well, I guess the bathroom is down this way so I'll make my way down there for a moment".  Then it progresses to double-checking.  "the bathroom is down the hall, right?"  Signs may seem like the logical thing to put around but to many patients it feels elementary.  Why put a sign that the bathroom is to the left when I know where the bathroom is.  They do not realize that the reason they know its there is because the sign is working.  But they take the sign down, and then wander around the home, trying to act like they are just 'walking around' when, in reality, they are trying to get their bearings - trying to figure out where they are and where things are.

My father had a rough day on moving day.  Our family had already moved everything in to his new place.  I set it up and decorated it, made it look like he lived there for awhile, hoping the familiar would bring him some comfort.  On the drive from rehab to the assisted living, about 20 minutes, he was convinced we were moving to Florida.  He reminded me that we needed to get his ID changed and to alert everyone of the address change.  He said he didn't need his winter jacket anymore and he was looking forward to the warmth.  I felt I was letting him down.  I let him talk like that for awhile but to be honest, it began to bother me and grate on my nerves.  I told him we're not moving to Florida right now.  He was surprised.  Disappointed.  

Another corner of Dads new room
We got to the new place, Luther Manor, and he was greeted with many warm smiles and a few hugs from residents and the nursing/care-giving staff.  We went to his room and he recognized, immediately, his desk from when he was a child.  The door to his bathroom was a mystery to him.  Every couple of minutes he would open the door and proclaim, "oh, there's my bathroom.  It's nice and big".  He would close the door, look around for a few minutes, then notice the door again and repeat.  I have to be honest - it bothered me.  Not in a, "oh what's happening to my father" way but honestly in a, "really?  again?" way.  That's normal human response.  It can get irritating at times BUT the key is to NEVER show it - NEVER let the patient sense you feel that way.  I decided we, or rather I, needed to walk so we walked around and saw the rooms.  I left Dad there close to dinner time but he asked me, "am I staying here tonight?"  I said, "yes Dad.  This is going to be home for awhile now for you."  He hugged me tightly and said, "thank you for all you do for me.  I'm glad you're here".  

My father is a kind man.  He is ready with a smile and loves to talk.  In the coming days I would learn that Dad did not spend much time in his room but rather would sit in one of the two living rooms or the dining room area and talk.  He would talk with anyone who would listen to him.  

Terri and Dad, April 2013
The last report from Dad was that he really liked the place.  I'm worried when the weather gets better how he will feel about the place being locked and that he needs to be supervised when going for a walk.  The staff assures me they will accommodate him but I'm not sure they realize how much Dad loves to walk.  Perhaps the grace in this scenario is that Dad's legs tire easily now, his knees get weak and he walks very slowly.  From  behind you would think you were watching a 95 year old man shuffle from here to there.  He believes he has no problem walking and that he walks at a normal pace.  When he is asked to pick his feet up when he walks he does for about four steps then returns to shuffling.  I'm guessing it feels safer to shuffle, more stable, and allows him to feel that he's more in control.  

He talks with his brother almost everyday on the phone.  He loves those phone calls.  His heart smiles when they talk about the old days and how each other is doing now.  Dad talks about how he is almost the elder of 'the clan' (his Aunt Barbara has him beat, still going strong in her 90's!).  Dad is ok where he is.  I'm relieved and my heart feels peace knowing he is safe, surrounded by great people, and has a smile on his face and his cup of coffee in his hand!

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