Saturday, April 21, 2012

 R   Residents

I’ve mentioned a few of the residents who live with my mother. Today I want to introduce you to a few more.

Tahini, my mother’s roommate, is a little Indian woman who often wears her long hair in a braid. She is a very sweet and loving person but, although she is verbal, her speech is incomprehensible. At first I wasn’t sure whether she even spoke English, but clearly she does understand it; we can even catch a few English words when she first begins to speak. I often think about how frustrating it must be for her. She clearly wants to communicate, to convey her thoughts, but can no longer make herself understood--except maybe to her daughter, but I don’t know this for sure, either. She does like to laugh, though, and to smile, and that’s also a way of communicating. She loves my mother. In the summertime Tahini will walk in the garden and pick flowers. She’ll bring a few to my mother, who doesn’t really know what to do with them. Sometimes she strokes my mother’s hair or even kisses her on the head; my mother was never used to that kind of physical contact, especially from strangers, so she makes a face, and Tahini laughs when she does.

Margaret  is the “terror of the MCU” (my nickname--everyone there is too nice to call her that)--a little woman with a hunched back who wields her wheelchair like a tank, swearing at anyone who blocks her way. She may be the saddest case, as she has never settled in as most of the other residents have. Gripped by paranoia, she accuses everyone of somehow “plotting” against her. She often catches the ear of Mary, who is also confused but a conciliatory person who tries to make things better for others. We see Margaret whispering to her in a conspiratorial manner and sometimes catch some of the things she says: “How do we get out of here? Why won’t they let us go?” She won’t hesitate to call someone “stupid” or a “damned moron” if they don’t say what she wants to hear. I’ve heard words come from her that shock me from a woman her age. She is very articulate and speaks with perfect grammar and word usage; she can even be very polite at times. She’s come over to us a few times and said, “Excuse me. I’m sorry to bother you, but can you help me?” When we ask what she needs help with, she says, “Nobody will tell me how to get out of here. They’ve locked me in. How can I get out? I have to go home to my mother. She’s sick.” Lately she’s been a little more hostile toward us. She accused my husband of stealing from her purse. Sometimes the CNAs are able to placate her; usually they can distract her long enough so that she’ll forget her complaints for a while. They have infinite patience with everyone, but I give them special credit for being able to deal with her as well as they do.

When we first met Annie, we wondered why she was there. She was intelligent and seemed mentally sound, able to hold conversations and displaying almost normal memory faculties. She was a writer who worked for nonprofit organizations and lived in New York City for many years. She’s able to leave the facility to go out with friends, and she can talk to people on the phone. A few months ago, however, we began to notice that she was declining. Now she shows the typical confusion and illogical speech typical of dementia. She’s the only person we have seen noticeably deteriorate in the time we’ve been visiting.

Ed seems to be the least impaired of the residents. I don’t know his life story, but I like to think that he was a college professor because that’s what he reminds me of. He loves to walk and is always in the garden in nice weather. His son comes to visit, and they leave the building and walk around the grounds, talking. Ed is very aware of the other residents (though again I don’t think he knows anyone’s name). He usually sits at meals with a few other men, and he notices if one hasn’t been served and will tell the CNAs that “this man needs his meal.” He also tries to help people sit down or get up, or by moving their wheelchairs into position at the table. He seems to feel quite at home in the unit, but so far hasn’t shown signs of further deterioration that we could see.

As I wrote about in an earlier post, we’ve seen many residents come and go. Some we get to know, some we don’t. But I think knowing them has enriched my life; it’s certainly reminded me that a person isn’t a disease. These people, in whatever stage of dementia they are in, are as much individuals now as they were before they developed the disease. The staff there knows this and treats them with the respect they deserve; it’s why they’re called “residents” and not “patients.” It’s something those of us dealing with this condition in a loved one often forget but never should: that the person we love may be different now, but he or she is still there.


  1. In recognizing their individuality, you also give them the respect and dignity they deserve Elaine. It is amazaing to me how much you've come to know each one well enough to know their stories. They are your mom's community and obviously are important to you as such. Thank you for sharing them with us and giving a glimpse into their worlds now.

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