wings and things

Dementia dialogues 3

on March 25, 2015

Okay so this post concludes the little mini-series about what I have learned over the last several weeks of working in the dementia house.

Silence is golden!

To begin with, I would take various of the ten women for wheelchair walks around the gardens and through the facility, bombarding them with my chatter and questions, pointing to flowers or pictures on the walls, or just telling anecdotes or jokes that I hoped would elicit conversations.

In hindsight, that was idiotic in many ways. Can you imagine being in a wheelchair, travelling through beautiful gardens, observing the various flowers, breathing in the fresh air, catching a glimpse of the ocean, with the person pushing your wheelchair, whose big shadow you can see on the footpath, chattering AT you, asking you questions that frighten you because you don’t know the answers, disturbing the peace of being outside?

Weeks ago, during one of these walks, I asked D how many children she had and she paused, nervously, then said, “Two or three I think.” She was embarrassed not to know the answer. Then, with S, the same question elicited sobs of “Where is my family?”

So now, unless the person in the wheelchair initiates a conversation, I just shut up and push the wheelchair and, in this way, we are both able to listen to, and appreciate, the silence of the fresh air, the smell of the ocean, the sight of the roses and other flowers.

Silence is golden!

Once back in the dementia house, there is plenty of opportunity to chat, joke, play card games, do jigsaws etc. so I am not quite sure why I felt it so necessary to crowd the quiet fresh air with my clumsy hundreds of unnecessary words. The wheelchair walks will now be done in silence.

The other thing I have learned through working in the dementia house is that touch can be a way of communicating that doesn’t rely on words or even facial expressions. A hug, kiss, hand hold, given to you by a person with dementia, is worth a zillion words – and to respond to that gesture is worth a zillion more. On the other hand, I have also learned that some people flinch at being touched, especially people who are silent, so this is something to be respected; after all, every single person with dementia is an individual. Some people don’t like to be hugged.

I am not going to write about this for awhile because I still feel that I am on P-plates, learning via my mistakes, learning how to appreciate and respect and ‘read’ silence, and learning about individual personalities.

Even though Anthony also has dementia caused by his Parkinson’s disease, I always test my ideas out with him just the way I used to do when I was writing university essays and, later, lectures. With the simple difference between a nod or a shake of his head, he continues to be my mentor despite the fact that his own ability to speak coherently is faltering fast. So learning how to read silence is a necessity.

Silence is golden!

Respect for silence is gold.

50 responses to “Dementia dialogues 3

  1. bulldog says:

    I have often wondered if someone suffering dementia can still communicate with expressions…. how often from a mere expression one can read a persons inner feelings…. the eyes often talk as well…. are these lost with dementia?

    • jmgoyder says:

      Anthony’s eyes are mostly pretty wide and blank due to the PD and, in the dementia house, many of the women have eyes that are similarly blank, confused stares. I am trying really hard to ‘read’ these expressions.

  2. Yvonne says:

    If only more people would heed that tiny sentence “Silence is golden”, not only with folks who have dementia, but in general. Why are people so afraid of silence???

    • jmgoyder says:

      That’s a good question. Perhaps many of us find silence awkward or uncomfortable. Your comment reminds me of the notion of comfortable silence.

  3. Vicki says:

    Well said, Julie.

    (I continue to be amazed at the Tourists who walk around the Botanic Gardens constantly laughing, talking, even yelling and LOOKing at each other. I’ve watched them walk non-stop without ‘a breath of fresh air’ and can’t help but wonder why they bothered to get out of the Tourist bus and enter the Gardens at all 😀 ).

  4. I think this is a great point to make – something I hadn’t really thought about.

  5. susanpoozan says:

    You seem to have discovered a great truth.

  6. This is a difficult lesson to learn, and relearn, when it’s family or friend going through a change in communication abilities. One son was pointing this out to me yesterday, that family members were upset with his parent for not talking to them like she used to. And he had to keep reminding them it wasn’t her it was her ‘condition’. And they just slowly faded away from her because of her increasing silence. Silence and being silent, and being okay with it……

    • jmgoyder says:

      I think this happens a lot when people become silent. Relatives will assume that they are ‘gone’ and stop visiting.

      • Julie, I think you are right. In this situation I referred to family actually got upset with the older adult thinking she was “not” talking to “them”. Even when it was explained. Distance was easier for ‘them’.

      • jmgoyder says:

        I find it so upsetting that one of the women in the dementia house never gets visitors for exactly this reason and she cries and cries all the time (the relatives live close-by!)

      • How can people be so heartless? I ask myself that nearly every day. But on the flip side of that….I see true kindness and love every single day as well. And I’m glad that your woman is there, can you imagine how she would be ignored if she was at home with people who wouldn’t talk or visit with her or care for her? Nursing homes are often times blessings and people do not always acknowledge that.

  7. whether it is long conversations or moments/times of silence they deserve our respect. anthony will i am sure be happy to teach you what you need to now. that man of yours has much to teach you yet!

    sending love and hugs

  8. Oh Julie, this is one of the most tenderly compassionate posts ever.

    Stunningly beautiful and profound.

    Thank you.

    PS — I am reblogging it on my blog today ❤

  9. magicallymad says:

    I am so happy that the residents have you and so impressed with your insight!
    Best, Jill

  10. Amy says:

    Very powerful lessons you are learning which, I think, can apply to our relationships in general.

  11. Judy says:

    All of this is probably leads to peacefulness for you, Julie, as you walk outdoors. “Sounds” good!

  12. Trisha says:

    You are so wonderful! They are lucky to have you there.

  13. I love being in the moment and learning these things vicariously through you Julie – You are golden too. ❤
    Diana xo

  14. When I worked with the old folks I distinctly remember the many, many bony old hands holding onto mine. Grabbing at me for a hold. You could feel the bones in their hands flexing. To just sit with them on my break was cathartic. The old ladies would hold my hand and just pat it. Pat Pat. There, there dear. I miss them terribly. Though I am sure they are all long dead now. Maybe they are following me about.. Likely ghosts. Pat, patting me still. Hmm . Definitely time I went to bed! c

  15. I think… I will also opt for silence…. Diane

  16. Tiny says:

    Beautiful posts in this series, Julie. We think we know until we learn…and respect is the key word, the gold, here.

  17. Yes I agree silence can be amazing there are times when words are not needed

  18. Sonel says:

    Very well said Jules. You are doing a great job and that is life. We learn more and more every day. They sure are lucky to have you there. 😀

  19. I have noticed over the years that my ability to stay silent is hinged on how comfortable I am with the company that I am in, the more comfortable I am, the more silent I tend to be, unless I have something funny to say and a good story to tell. 🙂

  20. I so appreciate your discussions of your learning curve. MIL, is in early/mid stage alzheimers, and comes to visit twice a year for 6 weeks. The re acclimation for us is a huge life/mind shift.

    Most of us have trouble navigating “normal” society. Recognizing and correctly reading cues to interaction become amazingly more challenging when others can’t signal in customary ways nor meet anywhere near the middle of reciprocal social interaction needs.

    Dementia puts an almost impossible burden on one side. No one is going to connect correctly 100% of the time. We need to give ourselves credit for trying. Great observation regarding touching and humor. Shared humor, in particular, seems to have an amazing power to bridge the divide and shift the mood of the moment.

  21. dogdaz says:

    Gives me chills as I remember Dad.

  22. Loved reading this thaanks

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