Sharing my experience of moving my friend with dementia into our community’s Health Center where Assisted and Nursing Care are available as part of our contract.
My friend, Traci (not her real name of course) is 90, virtually devoid of short term memory and sometimes very anxious—a bad combination. When she gets anxious about the whereabouts of her husband (Quinn in my narrative), she might search the neighborhood for him. Neighbors have learned to gently guide her home if she is walking alone.
Sometimes, Traci is running away, because Quinn, 93, gets angry at her repetitive and constant questions “Would you like a cup of coffee?” Some neighbors are convinced that her anxiety is causing her dementia and that Quinn is simply abusive while others have urged for many years that her dementia be handled professionally in our Health Center. Quinn has been unwilling to relinquish the full responsibility for care of his beloved wife of 70 years. Whenever he spoke of it to Traci, she cried or ran away. Traci is loving and attentive, tidying up tables and stacking plates as she did years ago in the restaurant they owned. A meal with Traci may include 10 or more queries about refilling your coffee or tea. She is normally calm, caring and kind.
Recently, Quinn fell and was hospitalized; as her friend, I was asked to stay with Traci who could not be left safely alone. She had watched her husband leave in an ambulance but could not remember it and had no idea where he was. For hours, I sat with her, ate with her, kept her safe while repeatedly calming her with stories and tidbits of information. When it was clear that Quinn would remain overnight in the hospital, I led her to the Health Center, away from her home, her cat, and her possessions knowing she would never return. We took nothing with us. I walked with her to a room, explaining that she would wait there for her husband’s return the next day and left her to the care of the nursing staff.
Meanwhile, our Health Center staff had obtained permission from their son/Power of Attorney to move Traci to the Health Center during Quinn’s hospitalization. Their son had already slowly begun the process of permanently moving them both and he agreed to hasten that process. By nightfall of the day Quinn had fallen, Traci was safely a resident in the Health Center. Quinn returned to the Health Center a few days later; he too would never again return to his former home. A week later, Quinn and Tracy were united in a new shared suite in the Health Center with furniture, possessions and cat.
Everyone who knows them celebrates that they are safe and together with 24/7 professional care. I am relieved, emotionally drained, physically exhausted, and deeply regretting that the move had not happened long ago. The “what-ifs” are haunting: What if their son had been unavailable? what if a transition hadn’t already been planned? what if they hadn’t had such strong community support? what if they didn’t live in a community with a Health Center contract?