Tuesday, December 21, 2010
While I was “retired” I started visiting an elderly couple in a nursing home. I heard that the woman was not doing well and decided I must see her today. She and her husband had shared a room since coming there, but his dementia had gotten so bad that he had to be moved to the Alzheimer’s area. When I arrived, Betsy was in her room being tended to by staff and was eventually transferred from bed to wheelchair. Then I sat on a chair across from her and tried to talk. On previous visits she was able to slowly but accurately converse with me, and told such things as how she and her husband met and fell in love, and she shed tears over having to leave her beloved dog. (I used to do a life review with my home health patients.) In my line of work, when people get old and have certain symptoms, it can be hard to tell if they have depression or dementia, but this woman to me clearly had depression. When I saw her today, I could tell how profound it has become. She asked how my family was and then shut down except for saying how she missed her husband. He had gotten to the point he was not able to give anything in the relationship, but she knew he was around, and women need to have someone to care for and care about. The staff person went to get him ready for supper and eventually pushed him into Betsy’s room so they could eat together. She lit up when she saw him and offered, “Hi Sweetheart," and he looked at her with a momentary smile as if it were an old reflex. There were no words in him to come out, and he soon started to tug on the big wheel on her wheelchair as if he wanted to fix something. I have noticed that when men get dementia they often want to work with their hands. I waited with them for what seemed like a long time as they sat with wheelchairs touching and no more speaking, and I thought about them as young lovers, and busy successful adults, and parents rearing their sons, and how we never know how our lives will turn out. Our lives begin with hope and sometimes end in despair.