The other day I said I had been involved in a series of Twitter messages about people living with dementia and their need to feel safe and secure. I had to admit that I hadn’t given a lot of thought about that. Perhaps that is because Kate has appeared to feel both safe and secure.
I am beginning to pay more attention now. Kate can take credit for initiating that interest when she periodically says “I feel safe with you.” At first, I wondered if she felt some special threat from a person or people around her. After some reading and reflection, I began to consider how uneasy one could feel without a memory. Judy Cornish, the author of The Dementia Handbook, tweets quite a few messages about the importance of safety. Her work has sensitized me even more.
Recently Kate has exhibited more signs of insecurity. Even in the past week, she has seemed particularly needy. Like everything else, this didn’t arise suddenly. For years she has wanted to follow me rather than beside me when we are out. The most common occurrence is in restaurants. She doesn’t want to follow the hostess. She wants me to do it, and she will follow me. At first, I felt a little awkward but quickly adapted. That has its own problems. She frequently falls behind or fails to see me turn and loses me. For that reason, I keep looking back to see that she is still with me.
As noted in previous posts, she started following me in the house last spring or summer. That is when she was no longer able to remember the layout of the rooms. She asks me where the bathroom is every time she needs it. That occurs even when she is seated in a chair in our bedroom that is two feet away from the bathroom. On two occasions in the past few days, she has wanted to hold my hand as we walked through the house.
In the past, she often objected to holding my hand because she saw that as a sign of dependence. Even now, she sometimes rejects my hand when offered. The more common pattern, however, is her asking to hold my hand. This began when she was walking up and down stairs or up and over curbs. Now it seems to occur in public places where she fears she might get lost. I know this because she has specifically mentioned it. Previously, she didn’t appear to be fearful of getting lost at all.
This insecurity extends to more mundane things than getting lost. At restaurants, she has periodically asked me if her glass of tea is hers. That is becoming much more routine. When Ken and Virginia were here, they got to observe that several times. She doesn’t want to do the wrong thing and wants to make sure she has the right glass.
At home, she asks, “Where do you want me?” or “Where should I go?” When I put her medicine on the table or island in the kitchen and tell her these are her pills, she forgets and asks if they are hers or if they are for today or tomorrow. After bringing her nightgown to her, she doesn’t start to put it on right away. When she is ready for bed, she asks if it is all right to put it on. She asks if she should get in bed. The list could go on and on. Once again, she doesn’t know what to do next and doesn’t want to make a mistake. She depends on me to protect her from doing the wrong thing.
I’ve also noticed signs of insecurity when I leave her with a sitter. Sometimes she asks if I can stay or go to lunch with them. Other times she asks if she can go with me. Recently, she told the sitter she would rather rest than go to lunch right then. She ended up resting the entire four hours I was gone, and she hadn’t had breakfast. I think Kate might have felt insecure going out with her. With the same sitter yesterday, it went quite well. She wasn’t the least bit bothered when I left and seemed fine when I returned. After Cindy left, however, she said felt better when I was with her.
The most dramatic example of her insecurity occurred Sunday before we were to attend a musical concert. I dropped her and a friend off at the theater while I parked the car. When I returned, I discovered that she felt sick. I decided we should leave. She didn’t want me to leave her while I went back for the car. She seemed to get better on the way home. She rested at home and never showed any further signs of a problem. I do know that she needed to go to the bathroom. Apart from that, I never noticed any other signs of illness. She was fine the next day. I think she just felt insecure with our friend whom she can’t remember.
One other little thing occurred yesterday morning. As I led her from our bedroom to the kitchen, I automatically took her hand. Often, when I do this, she resists. This time she held it firmly all the way to the kitchen. Shortly thereafter, we were on our way to Panera before going to her dermatologist. She thanked me without saying why. I thanked her and said, “I love you.” She got a sad look on her face and tears welled up in her eyes. As we turned left into the street leading to the restaurant, she grabbed my hand. The turn must have been unexpected, and she was frightened. It was less than a block to Panera, but her fright continued.
Last night at dinner she wanted me to sit on the same side of the booth with her. We have done that a number of times in the past, but this was quite unusual for her to request that. The way she asked it seemed like she would feel better if I sat closer to her than across the table.
All of these things and more have made me more mindful of how significant being safe and secure can be to someone with dementia. I need to be especially sensitive to this in the days ahead.