My husband has been a resident of a dementia care facility for seven months.  During that time, his vascular dementia has steadily progressed. He doesn’t know my name or what our relationship is, but seems pleased to see me when I visit.  He also doesn’t recognize the people in the pictures I have put on his bulletin board.

Not only am I trying to deal with his mental condition, but I am trying to understand how dementia care (nursing homes) operate. I have also had to step back and laugh at times.

Perhaps my experiences will help other care givers facing a similar situation. Here are a few things I have learned:

You are your loved one’s advocate, not the enemy of the staff.   If something occurs that you don’t like or understand, ASK the staff why such and such has occurred. I tried to wash my hands in the sink of my husband’s bathroom and found the water had been turned off. I had soap on my hands and went down the hall to ask why there was no water. I learned that my husband had a tendency to stuff towels or clothing the drain of the sink, turn on the water and leave the room. No one knows why, but we think  he might have been trying to launder soiled cloths. In any event, he had flooded the place a couple of times. Jeez.

On the other hand, a nursing assistant could not get my husband to change into night clothes. Next morning she told me he wouldn’t put on his night clothes so she just “threw a gown on him and went about my business” Unacceptable. I gathered up the charge nurse and the young worker and in no uncertain terms suggested the worker needed some additional training on dealing with dementia patients and that her only “business” was caring for my husband. Period. I also reported the incident to my husband’s doctor and the Director of nursing.

Curiously, questionable incidents seem to happen on the weekends. That’s the time when your visits are most important.

There is not one type of business I know of that does not have an inner-office communication problem.  Nursing homes are not exempt.  Whether it is three shifts or two, many times your requests don’t get carried over to the next shift.  I noted that my husband was eating about 75% of his lunches when he normally is the President of the “Clean Plate Club.” I told the day shift staff and asked them to keep an eye on him. I also called the evening shift to ask them to check on how much of his dinner he ate. Next time I visited I got a report that said he was back to his old eating habits.

Ask questions, keep everyone in the loop (administration and personal physician) and be patient.

Next time: “No, dear, this is not your bed.”

With love and hope, Jane.