“A woman was here today, a long time. I don’t know who she was. She had a dog. I don’t know if she was lost. But she sat right here, with the dog, talking and talking. I didn’t want to be rude, but I had things to do.”
My mother told me this one day at her assisted living home. She didn’t have anything she had to do. She had Alzheimer’s. I doubted that this woman and her dog really existed. But to be sure, I asked the nurse if anyone had been to see Mom. “Today is the day the therapy dog comes,” she said.
I told Mom the names of the dog and woman, and explained. She kind of remembered. But why were they coming to see her, she asked. “He was a cute little fella. But I’ve got my own dogs!” She meant mine who came with me.
“A kid was here!”
Another time, Mom was even more distraught. “A kid was here all morning. I don’t know where her parents were. I thought maybe I was supposed to be babysitting her. But I’m too old for that.” I asked where the kid went. “A nurse took her, thank heaven.”
The nurse told me what I suspected, after the therapy dog incident. School kids visiting nursing home residents. It’s good for the kids and good for the elderly.
Therapy or confusion?
I’ve seen the joy dogs can bring to nursing homes. The residents in Mom’s home were always so happy to see me. When I went alone, I found out who they really wanted to see. “Where are the dogs?” Those who usually smiled and came over, even if they couldn’t speak, didn’t even notice me without dogs. It was the dogs they wanted.
Bearing in mind Mom’s opinion on unsolicited visits, I kept the dogs away from residents who kept away from them. For Mom, the staff made notes on her preferences. She did not mention any more perplexing visits.
Social contact is good therapy for people in long term care. It breaks up their daily routine, the boredom, keeps them connected. Staff do their best but they have the nuts and bolts of care-taking to do. That care-taking must come first. So visitors, of all ages and species, help. But they can also be confusing, especially for those with memory loss. Like for Mom – wondering who is this, do I know them, why are they here.
“Why don’t they ask you?”
“Do-gooders!” Mom spat when I told her why the young girl was with her, “why don’t they ask you first?” Words to keep in mind. Maybe they did ask and explain, and she forgot. Alzheimer’s can cause memory and perception of reality to wander. Frequent cues might help lessen confusion, at least for the moment, about the “who” and “why” of visitors.
- My Seeing the World the Alzheimer’s Way has more on living with memory loss and dementias.