Residential care, dementia and friendship

aged care roomWhen I worked in aged care, this generally meant many of the few people still coming to visit an elderly member of the family, simply stopped visiting. Looking at the image I have added, it doesn’t look very inviting even to the person who has to live there… I know it is a bare room, but it is definitely nothing like home. Todays blog is my wandering mind, thinking out loud about how dementia and aged care affects our friendships.

Current research says when a person enters aged care (with or without dementia) most people will never or rarely visit them, and over the years I have literally heard dozens of people say , ‘I really should visit x, y or z, but just can,’t bear seeing them in a nursing home’, or ‘I just can’t bear being reminded of my mother/father/friend, who died in one’ and so on.

So imagine how hard it is for someone who not only has to live in a residential care facility, but who then loses contact with many of their close family and friends. When I worked in a dedicated a dementia unit in South Australia, this was even more pronounced. Sometimes even the immediate family would stop visiting. It is so sad the selfishness of our own feelings gets in the way of doing the right thing for others… which in the long run is so often the right thing for us!!

At funerals, I hear people say, ‘Oh, I feel so guilty for not having visited x y or z.’ In my own case, I have even heard of some of my family or ‘friends’ saying to each other they prefer not to stay in touch now in case I don’t know them, or behave strangely. Of course it is easy to say to myself, or for others to say, ‘these people weren’t real friends in the first place then’, but it still hurts, and it adds to the isolation caused by some of the other symptoms of dementia.

There’s an old saying, ‘when you’re down, there’s nothing quite like death for a comeback!’

This is particularly true as the faltered or departed friends mill around the tea and coffee after the funeral of an ‘old friend’, that very same friend they wouldn’t muster the courage to face their own fears to visit during illness or a nursing home.

I feel extremely thankful I still have a number of beautiful friends who spend time with me, who are not afraid of the changes or deterioration of the dementia, and who simply love me for who I am, on any given day. Many of the people I know living with dementia are extremely isolated and alone, and I hope meeting on my blog has helped them. It has definitely helped me, as without my online friends, and the new colleagues made through my advocacy work, there are still many days I would be very lonely. Thank you all.

17 thoughts on “Residential care, dementia and friendship

  1. That is true Kate-my mum told me that from a young age and yes people certainly do say that at a funeral-if my Grandad has to go into care i will visit him at the home as often as i can.

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  2. Pingback: Residential care, dementia and friendship | Assisted Living

  3. another fantastic blog darling kate, if i lived in adel you would be begging me to please ,, dont visit for a week hahaha, no at least it would be easier for us, alas but nothing in life is that easy is it, glad you have wonderful friends that visit when and often, but my thoughts are with our birds each and every day of course. to the moon and back dear one, love you xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

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  4. Still waiting until we all grow beyond this ridiculousness….Our wedding vows need to be revamped to include ALL relationships and may they all stay strong in sickness and in health!!! Amen….VK xxoo

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  5. One quick note ….. nursing homes are often depressing places …. the residents are often quiet with no expression on their faces and sit in large communal rooms with others also looking blankly ahead … the visit might not be so depressing if the environment was more pleasant during the visit?

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      • Kate – the issue is that most of the people who are there will not recognise that they are in a depressing place. Even if they were in an art gallery they wouldn’t react. – not even if they were in a bright coloured room. They really only react when the staff interact with them and show them things. When it’s almost like “waking them up” and asking them to do something ……..

        eg. a nurse or volunteer brings over a dog and asks them to pat the dog, or turns on some music and gets them all to sing.

        This is very labour-intensive and can’t be carried out for very long anyway as the residents may get tired. So then they get to sit and rest ……. and do nothing but look blankly ahead.

        So there aren’t many solutions.

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      • Very difficult issues, not enough staff, not enough visitors… I know from experience those blank faces respond more than we ever expect when they are given the time and respect they deserve… I nursed a lady once who the other staff told me, she doesn’t speak. I talked to her as if she was there, and after a few weeks she started talking to me really well, but refused to in front of others because she felt they didn’t respect her, a huge lesson to me when I was only about 21… This lady was incredible behind the vacant mask she showed others.

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  6. So true, and so sad. I worked or many years as Dementia and Palliative Care coordinator in a large residential facility where part of my role was to facilitate a support group for the families and friends of people living there. Over and over again I heard the excuse ‘I want to remember the person as they were’. I think the appearance of the ‘home’ plays a huge part in making those living there, and their visitors feel comfortable and wanted. Large spaces with people at different stages of their illness can be off putting and down right scary for some. Smaller spaces furnished as one would a home make living and visiting so much more pleasant. I do so enjoy reading your blogs each day as I have now temporarily retired since cutbacks in aged care meant my job no longer exists. I keep in touch with a few of the families, and will be returning to volunteer work in this field soon.

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  7. Great piece Kate.
    I noticed the same thing working in aged care.
    In low and high care the residents may have been lucky to receive the obligoraty 1 hour visit once a fortnight.
    But working in the dementia wing residents were lucky if they got a visit once every month or two. Not the case for everybody but it was the norm. Family may visit every month and often left disheartened that their family member didn’t recognise them.
    The residents mostly responded positively towards us, the staff as we were there every day. I found it fascinating that family struggled with their loved one’s and found it hard to draw out conversation. And yet once they left the residents would often open up and talk to us, the staff agaIn
    We were a familiar face.
    I stress this was not always as a result of us beng that person they saw every day. The disease caused this problem as well.
    And I’m sure it must be hard for family.
    But from experience that regular contact made the difference of the resident opening up.

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    • I guess it’s hard for everyone, but absence from a loved one with dementia almost certainly means they won’t respond to you, but to those who see them often… thanks for sharing your experience too. take care

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