Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Care Partner Wednesday--Can You Enter In?

Here's a scenario. On a trip to the local drug store, I pick up several items and head to the checkout. I also need stamps, which I know can be obtained at the cash register. While I am placing my items on the desk, the cashier begins to fire questions at me. Do I want a bag? Do I have the store's points card? How would I like to pay? Every time I opened my mouth to ask for stamps, she fired another question at me. Finally I blurted out, "I need stamps!" She looked startled, and pulled them out of the drawer. Her look as she checked me out clearly said "crazy lady in aisle one."

Another scenario. I once ventured into a certain much-beloved-by-others coffee shop. I'd never been before, but was with a group of people who frequented the place. I stared at the board behind the counter, and had no idea what to order. The sizes, the drinks--everything was in a language I didn't understand. The young man behind the counter began firing questions at me, and I backed away in bewilderment. His impatience was obvious, so I ordered what one of my co-workers was having. Intimidated, I sat and drank an overpriced drink I didn't like, vowing never to go back.

Is this what it's like to have dementia?

Do well meaning questions come across like rapid-fire bullets when your mind can't process the information quickly enough?

Does it sometimes seem like people are speaking a language you haven't learned?

Do you feel intimidated and forced into making choices you don't want, because you don't understand?

Today, the first E in care partner is for enter, and empathy. Enter into the world of the person with dementia for a moment. Understand, as much as you can, how frustrating and confusing the world can be. Allow yourself to shrink in shame when you don't comprehend. Feel the tears prick your eyes when you make a mistake. Or perhaps you hide your mistake with bravado, insisting the mistake was someone else's.

With even the tiniest particle of understanding, perhaps we can temper the way we respond. Slow down. Smile. Give the gift of respect. Listen.

One more scenario. As hard as it might be to believe, I have never done my taxes alone before. There was always someone to either do them for me or with me. I don't have a good relationship with numbers, and I find the whole process frightening. However, I gave myself the "You can do this" talk and phoned the tax preparation people. The lady on the other end of the phone was obviously rushed. She took my name without listening and missed the second part. Then she wanted my social insurance number, which I had to dig for. Who knew they would need that to make an appointment? Sounding frustrated, she gave me an appointment for the next day.

Armed with my file folders, paperwork and sticky notes, I headed over to the office, only to find the door locked. They closed an hour before my supposed appointment. Maybe between her accent and her rapid-fire words, she changed the day and I didn't hear it. I'm sure the mistake was mine. The experience left me feeling frustrated and angry. If she'd just slowed her tone, or repeated the appointment time once, this could have been avoided.

I'll take the experiences in these scenarios, and use them to help me enter into the world of people with dementia. I'll remember how I felt, and hopefully, it will make me a better care partner.

And you?

Care Partner Wednesday--Can You Enter In? Partner Wednesday--Can You Enter In?


  1. Great perspective. Thank you. We all need to slow down a LOT.

    1. Thanks, Diana. Our elders have so much to teach us.