jmgoyder

wings and things

Dementia dialogues 3

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.

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