Posted 5/31/2006 12:28 AM (GMT -6)
I've posted in your forum before about volunteering in nursing homes with my therapy dogs. Many of the residents have Alzheimers, and I want to thank all of you that replied to my post several months ago. I have such great admiration and gratitude to all of the caregivers of Alzheimer's patients, as well as to the Alzeheimer's patients themselves.
With my two therapy dogs, we have visited many facilites over the last several months, including our local hospital, schools, libraries, and nursing homes. By far, however, we have most enjoyed our visits to the loving and gracious residents of the nursing homes. We have befriended one resident, and she has become near and dear to our hearts. She is an 87 year old woman with beautiful eyes and a precious smile. Her heart is as big as Texas. Before she entered the nursing home, she had to find a home for her beloved dog, which devastated her beyond description. Therefore, my dogs and I have helped her cope with an otherwise difficult life in the nursing home. To say the least, we have been honored and blessed to meet this precious lady.
When my dogs and I visit our special friend, she always invites them into her bed, which they gladly accept. As she pets and hugs my soft and warm dogs, we talk and exchange stories. For the most part, she is usually sharp as a tack. On some occasions, however, I've noticed that her memory begins to fade, and she begins to confuse the present with the past. This particularly happens whenever she is stressed or tired. For example, when we visited last week, she initially seemed fine. She told me all about her childhood and shared some wonderful stories with me about growing up in the 1930's. Then, right before we were getting ready to leave, she asked what time the dogs had their class that night. I was confused and asked her again what she meant. She repeated the same question, and this time, she was slightly agitated. After thinking about it, I responded, "Yes, they go to school tonight. And they didn't do their homework, so the teacher will be mad!" That made her laugh, and she appeared content again. My dogs completed their obedience classses two years ago, when they were puppies, which was before we had ever met her. So, she must have been confusing my situation with one from her past.
I was later told by her caretaker that our dear friend has been diagnosed with the early stages of Alzheimer's disease. I suppose that I wasn't surprised by that, but it still broke my heart. Now, this dear lady feels like a grandmother to me. I'm now trying to learn all that I can about Alzheimer's, and that is why I'm posting in this forum. If anyone can shed some light on this disease with me, I'd greatly appreciate it. What is the best way to respond to her when her memory begins to lapse? Is it best to respond like I did with the dog school question? Also, I've noticed that our friend starts to get REALLY upset with herself when she can't remember something. For example, she was talking about how much she enjoys reading books, and she said that she really wanted to read one particular book. She couldn't think of the name of the book, and she was getting really frustrated and angry at herself for her memory lapse. I asked her what the book was about, and she remembered that it had something to do with an artist. "The Da Vinci Code?" I answered. "YES!", she said with excitement. "That's it. I really want to read it!" Then, she calmed down considerably. She asked if I had the book, which I do, and she asked if she could read it. So, during our next visit, I took the book to our dear friend, and her eyes lit up when she saw it. A big smile took over her face. I realized that she most likely would not be able to read the book, but I went ahead and took it to her anyway because just seeing the book was therapeutic in and of itself for her. Does my logic make sense to anyone, or should I have just not taken her the book? Even though she hasn't tried to read it, she is proudly displaying it on her telephone stand. It doesn't matter to me whether or not she reads it. Goodness, I haven't even read it! I just don't know if I did the right thing in taking her that book. Also, what is the best way to respond to her when she starts to get frustrated and angry with herself when she can't remember something?
I'm sorry for my rather long post. My dogs and I care about our sweet friend immensely, and we want to support her in every way possible. Even though her memory fades from time to time, she ALWAYS remembers my two dogs and myself. Recently, she looked me straight in the eye and thanked me for being her friend. "You have provided me with something to look forward to every day," were her exact words. She has done the same for us. It scares me that Alzheimer's may rob her mind completely in the coming months. We will be there for her, no matter what, and I just want to make sure that I will be as good of a friend as possible. Again, I would greatly appreciate any information anyone can share with me. Thanks so much.
With kind regards,
"The most called-upon prerequisite of a friend is an accessible ear." Maya Angelou