By Michael A. Bower
As my mother’s primary caregiver, the staff (where she lived) often called when my mother showed a new behavior. Mom was a colorful character, but they thought the world of her. Fortunately, I had two things going for me. One, I listened to and remembered all those family stories that my grandmother told us. And two, I had worked with people with dementia for several years.
I vividly remember the day the staff called because they wanted permission to give her an anti-anxiety medication before her baths. They reported that she kept trying to climb out of the bathtub and they were afraid she would harm herself. Mom had always loved baths and they were giving them to her at the time of day she liked, so I was puzzled by what had caused this change. I visited to see the problem for myself. I saw my mother get on her knees and, at that point, the staff rushed to seat her.
Suddenly, I knew what was happening. One of those family stories came to mind. As a child, my mother, raised on a homestead in Arizona, had no indoor plumbing. All the water was heated on a wood-burning stove. My mother had two sisters and each would kneel in the tub while one of the others poured water over her. This was what my mother was trying to do – in her world she was a young woman back on the homestead and she needed to kneel for her bath. I asked the staff to step back and see what mother did. Sure enough, she got on her knees and was ready for her bath! As long as she was allowed to kneel her bath went well, and we avoided giving her any unneeded medications.
So, how bored were you by those old family stories? You know, the ones about how Dad walked five miles to school or what it was like growing up during the depression. Do you remember them? Have you written them down? Well, it’s important that you do, and that you explore and share those memories with others, especially caregivers, when perplexing behaviors arise.