After reading this post by ChickenRuby, I felt I have something to contribute to the discussion.
Not about children with special needs, but about elders who suffer from dementia or Alzheimer’s.
Like ChickenRuby, I’ve been bitten, pinched, hit, spat on, kicked and called names (being called a Nazi really hurt my feelings and made me cry). Most of the times by the person suffering from dementia, sometimes by a family member of the client.
Family members tend to think they know their relative better than we do. But we see their relative every day, for hours. We see that they are getting worse, that they forget more and more. Most clients have a tendency to act better when their relatives are around. But when they leave, the clients gets back to its normal self. The one that (in many cases) can’t perform even simple tasks.
For families this is very hard to understand. I once cared for a woman who, physically, was fine. But mentally she knew nothing. Yet she wanted to go out, walk around the village, go to the harbour. Her daughter thought that was fine and was very angry when I told her I couldn’t let her mother go out unless someone was with her.
Mind you, she’d got lost quite a few times before. Luckily, in a small community everyone knew her and brought her back, but the ordeal made her get worse every time.
Or the gentleman who thought he could still drive his car around. One time, when I went home, I got stuck behind him. I was waiting for the traffic light to turn green when he suddenly overtook me (wrong side of the road) and drove through the red light, almost hitting a few cyclists. I got stuck behind him for 10 kilometers. Couldn’t get past him at all. He swerved from one side to the other, breaking randomly and going 50 KM/H instead of 80. It was dangerous.
I talked about this with my manager and coworkers and the advice was given to his children that they’d sell off the car. One agreed, the other one didn’t. So the car stayed. We called it in with the police, they came around and talked to the man, but he flat-out refused to give up his car or his driver’s license. In the end we had to call the police whenever we saw him leave and hope that he wouldn’t cause an accident.
Of course it’s hard acknowledge that your relative can’t do what they used to do. They slowly travel back in time further and further. Until, finally, their body gives up and they die. And that’s hard. But don’t ignore the signs, don’t ignore the people who care for them. They know what they’re talking about, they know your relative better than you do, really.
Dealing with dementia is like dealing with a child with special needs. They don’t see what consequences their behaviour might have. They simply don’t know. They tend to think they can do whatever they always did, but that time has passed.
And that’s hard. On the client and on the family.
Cartoon by TeddyTietz