The following is an article I wrote for a monthly newsletter at a veterans nursing home where I worked on the Alzheimers secure unit.
May I share some of the things rattling around in my head? "They're all the same but different." How many times have we heard that expression? It never really meant much to me until I began working with Alzheimer's Disease victims. How much they are alike, how much they differ.
Sometimes when I feel particularly distressed, I go sit with the guys in the solarium on the secured unit. We visit and hold hands and smile at each other. I observe them as they observe me.
One gentleman sits upright, with his legs crossed, arms in an appropriate position, looking for all the world as though he were not suffering from a devastating disease. He speaks appropriately, but it seems he wakes up to a new world every few minutes because he doesn't remember things that occurred very recently.
One of the many things I don't understand about this disease is...why do these men remember the way back from the dining room from day to day? How do they remember that it's okay to go with me for a cup of coffee? They know when I walk into the room that I just might offer them that opportunity or invite them to go for a ride or a walk or offer them a snack. We are familiar to them yet we are strangers. They obviously sometimes think we're wife, sister, daughter, brother, mother, father, or an old neighbor from their childhood. How can they recall how to fix their coffee to their liking?
There are some mannerisms that many of the guys have used at one time or another. My favorite is the one in which it appears that he is handling a piece of hair, lifting it from one hand to the other. I am so tuned into this mannerism that, when he gives me that object (which I can't see), I will not only take it, I will carefully put it into my pocket! How about the mannerism where he is placing a "long key chain" into the palm of my hand, watching it curl into a circle on my hand, winding it a little so it stays on my hand. What is he seeing?
One the few things I can accept is the way these folks lose their "hang-ups" or inhibitions about certain things. For instance, the way a couple of men will walk down the hall holding hands with each other (Now, really, would they have done that without feeling like a "sissy"?). But they've forgotten that men "don't do that" and just respond to the need to be comforted by the closeness of another.