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My great-grandmother has severe dementia and has over the last couple of years told some fabulously wild tales. Her stories both entertain us making us smile and sadden us as we watch her awareness slip more and more. In addition to hearing my grandmother’s stories I also got to hear some stories from the residents where I worked. Without naming people I decided it would be great to share some of the tales and bring a little light to something that is actually quite tragic. Most of the stories come from people who were very sharp and at one point extremely aware.
At one point there was a woman who was convinced she had several boyfriends. Her boyfriends consisted of the preacher, the medicine administrator, a couple of the residents, and another gentleman who was part of her daily routine. If hearing about the multiple boyfriends wasn’t enough, it went further. Apparently there was one night when four of them were cuddling with her in her bed when the fifth one walked in. As far as she was concerned she was engaged to the fifth one who also happened to be the one who administered the meds for her ward. The story goes that he was insanely jealous and called off the wedding. It was even sadder that she had genuinely no idea that what she was saying was not only fiction but to her it sounded completely plausible.
Working in the kitchen of a retirement home means that residents trust you and see you all the time, so they come to you when there is a problem. Unfortunately some of those problems are entirely out of the kitchen crews’ control. There was a day when one resident returned after dinner utterly distraught because somebody had stolen the toilet paper from her apartment. She couldn’t fathom that somebody would do something so uncivilized. She was 100% sure that she had closed her door behind her automatically locking it. Unfortunately being a weekend meant that there was minimal security on sight and no cleaners so we couldn’t get into the supply closet to give her more toilet paper. As the conversation went on she continued to get more fired up and there were a lot of other residents who saw her making a scene. Those of us in the kitchen had known that her grasp on reality was slipping as there were times when she would come down multiple times a night for dinner forgetting that she had been there at all. The latest scene caused her to be victimized by the other residents because it was not the first time that she had forgot running out of something or misplaced something. It was truly sad to watch her be made fun of because she was one of the nicest ladies in the home, however we had known for a while that she’d been suffering from slight levels of dementia for a while.
One of the most entertaining residents I ever met had a completely unique sense of normalcy, but nobody was ever sure if that was because of his active imagination or if he was slipping down the slope of insanity. You have to understand he was a writer and always had a story or play on words to entertain those around him. Whenever he would show up at dinner with a new story we knew that his little friend Hazel had visited again. Hazel was his muse and when I asked what she was it was simply a nut. She would occasionally visit and bring him inspiration for a new writing piece whether it was a poem or a short story. His little friend was not the only little quirk about him. He had two dogs that he would joke about taking them leftovers because they were guard dogs. Hearing about the dogs alone wouldn’t sound strange to anybody new, but after a while it would come out that one was stuffed and sat outside his door. The second dog of his was one of those wooden pull-along toys you see in old movies. He’d had the wooden one from the time when he was six years old. Everybody in the nursing home knew him and were always willing to hear his wonderful tales that Hazel always brought. It was always hard to know if he was knowingly telling a story or if he actually believed every word he said because he was suffering from dementia.
While there are some entertaining stories from people with dementia it is not a laughing matter. Some of the brightest individuals that I have ever met suffer from dementia and unfortunately it is heartbreaking to see the light go out. There were residents that would get lost navigating the halls that had been their home for years. I’ve seen it to where families of those suffering dementia make jokes about their family members because it’s hard to cope with the reality that a once bright mind is now the butt of family jokes. While the stories are a delightful distraction from the truth, the fact still stands that most people with dementia are not truly aware of their slipping mental state.