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:
“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.
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.