A few weeks ago I re-blogged a post from Kay Bransford’s blog, Dealing with Dementia which listed 20 things we shouldn’t say to someone with dementia. One of the things on the list is not to correct or challenge trivial things; another was not to say ‘remember when’.
Out shopping recently in a department store I noticed a woman – middle-aged – pushing an elderly woman in a wheelchair. She maneuvered the chair to a display of shoes. It was the raised voice which caught my attention more than anything but something alerted me to the fact the elderly woman had dementia. I’d missed the beginning of the conversation but am guessing the elderly woman had questioned the younger.
“You’re in Marks and Spencer’s, mother,” daughter shouts.
“I know where I am,” mother replies, “but what have I bought?”
“You haven’t bought anything. We just got here. Do you want to look at the shoes?”
I realise I’m going to be caught staring and shuffle off a bit, keeping the group – another woman pushing a man in a wheelchair seemed to be accompanying the mother and daughter – in my line of sight.
I’m still close enough to hear the mother tell her daughter she doesn’t want shoes and see her being pushed off in a different direction. I follow at what I hope is a discreet distance.
“I’d like a dressing gown.”
“You don’t need a dressing gown,” replies daughter. “You’ve got one.”
“They have nice ones in here.”
“I told you, you don’t need a dressing gown.” By this time she is pushing the wheelchair through the lingerie department, which carries a large stock of dressing gowns.
“Oh, lovely,” says mum, reaching out towards a long, fleecy one. “Such a pretty colour. And it feels so soft.”
“For goodness sake, mother, you do not need a dressing gown.” By now, the daughter’s voice is not only loud it has acquired that ‘see what I have to put up with?’ tone. She’s still pushing the chair through the lingerie department, her mother’s head swiveling from side to side trying to focus on the dressing gowns through which she is being pushed at what must seem a dizzying speed.
“Oh, wait, stop. I like that one. Let me see.”
Daughter speeds up. The woman pushing the other wheelchair suddenly shouts out to the mum. “You’ve already got a lovely dressing gown. Remember? You bought a new one last week.”
Mum does not remember. Mum is now becoming distressed; tears are not far away. Daughter gives a huge sigh. “Time to get out of here,” she exclaims, yanking the wheelchair round – so they go back the way they came. Yep, right through all the dressing gowns.
I want to talk to this woman. I want to tell her it would be so much better for everyone if she didn’t argue with her mother. Why not agree the dressing gown she likes is lovely? Why not allow her the pleasure of looking at them and deciding which one she likes best? Why can’t you agree with her? Why not find a way to distract her attention? Suggest you come back later to look for the one she likes best.
I want to shout at the woman who asked her if didn’t remember buying a dressing gown last week. Of course, she doesn’t remember. You know she has dementia. Of course she doesn’t remember buying a dressing gown last week. Did she really buy one or were you just saying that? Were you lying to someone with dementia because you know they would have forgotten?
Of course, being British and trained from nappy-hood (diaper-hood) not to say or do anything which might cause a scene in public, I keep quiet. I’ve made mistakes, too.