Old people are like babies. There, I said it! You may not agree with me, that is fine. However, in a lot of ways they are like babies and children. Why I like senior citizens and not babies, I don’t know? There are some glaring similarities between the two, but some important differences, as well.
I feel like we end up a lot like we start out. Lying in a bed, unable to talk or walk. Unable to communicate what we want, so we just cry out in frustration. It is almost like our lives start to reverse. There is an age before you are at death’s door where you act like a toddler. You can talk, but you can’t understand why you can’t have what you want when you want it. You want to “go home”, so you cry and whine. You want to “go outside” so you cry and whine and scream and yell. You are “hungry”, so you complain and throw a tantrum until you get food. Your diapers have to be changed. You have to be bathed. People cook for you and do your laundry. At the very end, when you are like a baby, people have to feed you mushed up foods and dress you. People who take care of the elderly, are just like parents. As an activities person, I would equate myself to their daycare leader or pre-school teacher, I guess.
The major difference lies in their dignity, though. We have to be very cognoscente of always preserving their dignity. While a lot of behaviors are similar to that of a child or baby, they are not a child or baby. They have lived a whole life, and we need to treat them as such. It can be easy to fall into the trap of talking to them in that condescending way, or talking about them like they aren’t there, or leaving them out of decisions that affect their life (thinking that we know better). We can’t do that. They are adults, and they can actually tell when they aren’t be treated as such. They will let you know too. Believe me.
I had some experiences these last couple of weeks that reminded me of the thin line between senior and child. One of them concerning a resident who passed away. It seems to always happen on my day off, and I come back to work and find out. She didn’t have anyone in this world but her court appointed POA, and of course our staff. She had been in the process of passing for a few weeks. She was at the point where all she could do was lay in bed all day. She couldn’t speak. She couldn’t do anything. I think one of the most precious moments of my life thus far was going into her room, and just sitting with her, rubbing her shoulders, kissing her forehead, stroking her hair, and telling her that someone was there with her and loved her. It reminds me of my grandma who passed with Alzheimer’s. When my family would visit her, all we could do was just sit with her. She couldn’t do anything. I was so young, though, that I didn’t really understand, and I don’t remember much about it. Being able to do it now, helps me feel more connected to my grandmother’s death. It helps me understand it a little more. A baby can’t talk to you, or do anything but lay there, but it still needs your love and affection. It is the same with the elderly. I truly believe that just sitting with them and giving them that attention can make a difference. I am glad I was able to do that a few times in the last days of her life. I am told she went very peacefully.
I have mentioned the resident before who yells out and cries like a little baby, and I have to go over and hug and kiss her and tell her I am with her and that I love her for her to calm down. I mentioned her in my first ever blog post: “There is a woman on the dementia floor who is very tiny and frail and screams at the top of her lungs quite frequently because she is just so scared and confused. She really just wants someone to sit with her and love on her. So while they played volleyball, I sat with her. I hugged her, rubbed her back, held her hands. She kept yelling, “Do you love me?” I would say, “Yes, I love you.” Then she would grab my hands and kiss them. Then she would sing to me. So sweet!!!” I have mentioned how Kentucky always cries and says she wants to go home, and doesn’t understand that she lives there, and I have to hold her and calm her down and tell her we will take care of her and keep her safe. These are literally daily occurrences. Several times a day, really.
There is a resident who is probably on par with a 3 or 4 year old. She always thinks her parents are coming to get her. She takes her baby doll with her everywhere she goes. She is very physically active, but can’t even tell you what her favorite color is. She couldn’t even name a color if you pointed it out to her. She gives some of the best hugs in the whole world. She dances around the room with me. Her laughter is infectious. She is the one I refer to as “Pantsless Volleyball” because of this story from my first ever blog on the old site: “I was working on the dementia floor for the 1st time today. We were playing wheel chair volleyball. One of the very young and mobile dementia residents was playing, but sitting in a chair too. She had a blanket wrapped around her waist. After about 30 mins of playing she got up to pick up the ball and the blanket fell off. Her mouth dropped open, turns out she wasn’t wearing any pants or underwear. So, in sum: pantsless volleyball day at work.” However, if someone talks to her like a child, she will say, “Don’t talk to me like a baby.”
I could go on forever with these comparisons. “Patsy” throws temper tantrums when she can’t find her diapers, when she doesn’t get her way, when she doesn’t like her hair, when she isn’t getting enough attention. “Lorna Doone” (named for her love of the Lorna Doone shortbread cookies), will cry out at the top of her lungs, and when you go to her will say, “My bottom is burning!”, which means we need to put her to bed. If you try to tell them differently than what they are telling you, if you try to argue with them, if you tell them they aren’t allowed to do something – they will let you know real quick that they are not a child.
It is a fine line to walk. It is our job to keep them safe. It is also our job to preserve their dignity. They are adults, and we have to remember that. At the end of the day, it is their world and we are living in it. We have to enter their reality. That is where it differs from a child. We are not their legal guardian with the final say. We are their companions who keep them safe and happy.
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