Category Archives: care homes

Socialization and Dementia



Is someone with dementia able to socialize with new acquaintances, or is socialization limited to family, known for a long time, and interactions with staff, vital to survival?

A Great Setup for Socialization

Because Mom is in a care home, I thought she would enjoy socializing with the other five residents as well as with the staff. I couldn’t have been more naive. Mom has been in her care home for almost nine months. She still doesn’t even know the names of the other residents let alone displays enough interest in them to talk to them. I find this loss of socialization and the state of isolation it brings very sad and incomprehensible.

Lost Opportunities for Socialization

Mom has at least formed a good opinion of one of the other residents. “He’s such a nice man,” she will say of one of the two male residents. It is the only positive statement she has made about any of the residents. The other male resident is bedridden, so it is not surprising that Mom doesn’t know who belongs to what is merely a voice down the hall.

There are three other female residents, as well. All the four women spend each and every day in the living room together, sitting in the same chairs, each covered by a blanket. Mom is aware of only one of them.

No one can fail to notice Betty. Betty is the source of drama at Mom’s care home. Betty goes on a jag about every three months and gets nasty and rebellious, refusing to eat or take her medications. Her appalling behavior, including stomping out of the front door with her walker and screaming for the police and berating the mail carrier, inevitably escalates to a call to the police and the ensuing 72-hour hold at the hospital.

Betty is equal opportunity mean. She distresses the staff as well as the other residents and any unsuspecting visitors.

Mom doesn’t like her. Betty targets Mom because Mom gets visitors, otherwise known as me, whereas Betty’s children refuse to have anything to do with her for some unfathomable reason. I have arrived and been told that Mom has been crying because Betty was being a harridan again.

Because Betty makes life miserable for everyone, staff has been trying move her elsewhere, preferably to some gulag in Siberia. So far, no cigar, not even poor quality vodka.

Then there is Sarah. Sarah is a very sweet, gentle lady. Mom’s awareness of Sarah is limited to the following:
Sarah sneezes.
“Bless you,” I respond.
Mom asks (every single time), “Who are you talking to?”
“To Sarah. She sneezed.”
Mom peers over the great expanse of approximate five feet that separates her from Sarah as if she never knew someone else was there. This is in spite of the fact that any time Sarah is taken to the bathroom or to her room for an after lunch nap, Sarah passes within inches of Mom’s feet. And yet somehow, Sarah does not exist for Mom.

The final resident is Grace. Mom completely ignores Grace when Grace starts talking.  Admittedly much of the time, Grace is talking in her sleep. Grace sleeps much of the afternoon due to age and medication. When she is awake and moving, Mom will come up with some truly stellar questions and remarks.
“Is that a real person?” Mom asks.
“Yes, Mom.” (You’ve got to be kidding me. Really? No, Mom. that is really an artificial intelligence creature placed there to take up space.) That’s Grace. She was taking a nap.” (I may think exasperated and snotty, but I somehow never express it in the moment. I am a coward.)
Mom then launches into one of her soto voice tirades. I can only get the gist of her disapproval that someone dares to be sleeping out in the living room all afternoon long. I guess when Mom falls asleep, time just stands still, and it does not violate the strict manners of a proper lady.

Socialization with the Staff

Mom does much better with the staff. No, she still can’t remember any names, not even Anne’s who is there five or six days a week. However, Mom banters and jokes with the staff, if by joking we include threats to kick them in response to their reminder to keep her feet and arms in so as not to get hurt while being wheeled to and from the bathroom. They act as if she is funny whereas my eyes get wide, and I want to apologize.

I guess they are accustomed to her aggressive/critical ‘humor.’ I remember Anne’s story about lunch being delayed for some reason while all the residents were waiting at the table. She related how she told them, “Sorry we are running a little late. Lunch is coming.” Mom replied, “So is Christmas.”  Ha! ha! ha!

I don’t find it funny. I find it rude and critical, but then I grew up with Mom, and Anne didn’t. Anne thinks it indicates that Mom is still sharp in some ways. Right. Sharp as a knife shoved in your gut and then twisted. But, we all have a different perspective, and I am truly grateful that the staff seems to find her amusing rather than acerbic. However, If Betty ever does get shipped out, Mom may be in trouble.

Socialization Conclusion

So, the answer to my question is that, in my mother’s case, she is not able to socialize other than with me, with my husband, and with my sister when she visited, and with the staff. She is unable to reach out to the residents around her. They serve no purpose for her, and that I find very sad.

 

Care Home Humor: Unperturbed Grace

“Grace” is one of my favorite residents at Mom’s care home.  Her dementia is advanced.  She doesn’t say a lot, but generally conveys that “It’s good.”  She likes the home.  She actually thinks it is hers.  Grace gets cross sometimes.  And scared sometimes.  And many times, she just makes us laugh.  Her humor is special.  It is unintentional and arises out of just who she is.  We love her.

Grace sleeps quite a bit in her recliner during the day. Frequently when she wakes, it is with a start and an exclamation of some kind as she reorients to where she is. Sometimes, it is clear she has been dreaming and is a bit frightened.

A few days ago, we had a small scare. Dave likes to remain at the dining table after lunch for a while and listen and sing along to the music. Sometimes he nods off a bit but will eventually get up and go down the hall to his room for a nap. This particular day he must have been positioning himself to get up by turning sideways in the chair and then nodded off before making the effort of rising. The next thing we knew, he had fallen backwards onto the floor.

Staff checked him out, got him up in his chair, and bandaged a scrape. Dave was sent to his room.  Apparently, you are never too old to be sent to your room.

A while later, Grace startled out of her sleep with a “What happened?”

“Well, we’ve just been listening to the music, Grace. And Dave fell out of his chair.” I responded.

“Okay,” said Grace.

I imagine I could have said that the place caught on fire, and we had all evacuated the premises while leaving her behind, and she would have responded the same.  She is “okay.”  Except when she gets cold, and then she is quite cross.  However, if you want someone who can roll with the punches of life, that’s Grace.

For the other “Grace” posts, click here to read “Care Home Humor: Grace,” and click here to read “Grace and the Cat.”

 

 

Care Home Humor: Grace and the Cat

The resident cat at Mom’s care home is a beautiful bi-color mask and saddle feline that Anne rescued. The residents love Kitty. To say that Kitty is a tad overweight is being kind. She lives to eat. Kitty’s weight tends to be the subject of much of the humor from the residents and staff.

If the staff is in the kitchen, Kitty is right there meowing and pressing against their legs until they can hardly move without tripping over her. She wants a treat, preferably her tuna. If the refrigerator or a cabinet is open, Kitty has her head right in there examining the contents for likely goodies.

One late afternoon, “Grace” was already placed at the dining table in her wheelchair after a trip to the bathroom. It was close enough to dinner time that there was no point in transferring her to her recliner only to have to transfer her back into her wheelchair for dinner. The rest of the residents would be brought over soon.

Anne was finishing preparing dinner with Kitty close on her heels with her every movement. The meowing was piteous. Kitty clearly thought she was starving.

Anne has been trying hard not to feed Kitty so much and eventually raised her voice sternly. “You already ate! I’m not feeding you any more!”

“Okay,” said Grace.

Anne didn’t hear Grace from the kitchen, so I piped up. “Anne, Grace thinks you were talking to her.”

“Oh, my God!”  Anne flew out of the kitchen to Grace at the table. “Oh, Grace. I wasn’t talking to you. I was talking to Kitty. I’ll feed you. Of course I’ll feed you dinner.”

“Okay,” said Grace.  Grace sort of goes with the flow.

I believe that Kitty got her own back that day, making Anne the brunt of the humor.  But really, it is Grace that makes it all work.

For other “Grace” posts, click here to read “Care Home Humor: Grace,” and click here to read “Unperturbed Grace.”

Care Home Humor: Grace

“Grace” is one of the residents in Mom’s care home. She is very serious, having lost any intentional sense of humor. However, without meaning to, Grace provides laughs for the staff, for some of the other residents, and definitely for me.

Grace is a tiny lady. Her dementia is far enough along that it is quite difficult to understand what she is saying as most sentences seem to be random strings of words. However, sometimes you can glean the overall intended message or at least respond in a way that acknowledges her emotions.

One afternoon when I arrived, Anne was doing Grace’s nails—cleaning them, filing them, and then applying nail polish in Grace’s favorite rose pink color. This procedure took place at the dining table as I was visiting with Mom and listening to the music, often singing along.

After a while, Anne rose from the table and told Grace to keep her hands on the table top to allow the polish to dry, which Grace dutifully did.

Anne decided to take a photo of Grace for Grace’s son and encouraged her to smile.

“Oh, that’s a great photo!” Anne beamed and showed the photo to Grace. Then she came over to show it to me. Grace had a huge genuine smile.  It was a wonderful photo, and I said so.

“I never get such a big smile out of her. Her son will be so happy to see this.”

Anne went back to the dining area. “We got a great photo this time, Grace. Hallelujah!”

Vina, the other staff that day, leapt into the spirit of the conversation with “Thank you, Jesus!”

Grace said, “You’re welcome.”

For other “Grace” posts, click here to read “Grace and the Cat,” and click here to read “Unperturbed Grace.”

Care Home Surprises

When my mother entered a care home, there were certain things I never expected I would be doing, such as explaining about HPV.  However, when one spends time visiting a loved one, one gets involved in the oddest things. I call these incidents ‘little care home surprises.’

These surprises can be a memorable conversation I have with the residents, or a strange activity I get roped into.  Sometimes it is an interaction I have with the staff, or an interaction I observe between the residents.  They can be pleasant or unpleasant or indifferent.  What qualifies them as care home surprises is quite simply that I never ever imagined they would happen.

The example below is a conversation I never thought I would be having at a care home.  I think it is a good example of the care home surprises that make visiting, um, interesting.

The Set-Up

Sometimes when I am visiting my mother, the residents are watching a tv show or movie. Questions tend to arise. “What’s going on?” is the most common. It is very hard to follow a plot when you have dementia. Often I explain what is happening in a scene or give a summary of the plot if more is needed.

And then there are the commercials. Given the over-dramatization of ‘problems’ that the product is touted to solve, these commercials can cause a bit of alarm and a lot of confusion for the residents.

Last week one of the commercials was a dramatized plea to get parents to vaccinate their children against HPV. It started with snippets of both boys and girls telling the camera, “My parents didn’t do anything. I got HPV.”  “My parents didn’t tell me. I got cancer.”

Care Home Surprises, Example A

“What’s HPV?” one of the residents asked me.

I bravely launched in. “HPV stands for the Human Papilloma virus. It is a sexually transmitted infection that can lead to cancer.”

“Fortunately,” I continued, “we now have a vaccine available that is able to largely protect people.” I explained that the point of the commercial was 1.) to remind parents to get their children vaccinated and 2.)  to vaccinate their sons as well as their daughters, because males can end up with cancer, too.  People tend to think it just causes cancer in women.

“It must not be very common,” my enquiring-minds-want-to-know lady stated.

“Oh, it is. It is very widespread, which is why it is so great that this generation of kids will be largely protected.”

“Oh.” General head-nodding except from two ladies who were asleep. Well, I guess they were nodding also, just not in quite the same way.

My mother, when I turned back to her, was looking at me with her famous you-must-be-kidding look that I know so well. At least I didn’t get chastised for talking about sex. Hey, I was just answering the lady’s question.

This conversation was not what I expected when I arrived that day. It’s just one of many little care home surprises that come my way.  Visiting a care home is definitely not boring.

 

To read other posts related to care home, click here for “Choosing a Care Home,” and click here for “Mom Stopped Peeing on Me. Thanks, Care Home!