Caregiving is a Learning Process

I like to think I’m a pretty good caregiver. Like everyone else, however, I make my share of mistakes. Yesterday I encountered two situations that called for “doing the right thing.” I acquitted myself when faced with the first one. I failed miserably with the second one and then made a recovery by doing what I should have done in the first place.

Kate’s brother and his wife left early yesterday afternoon. They wanted to have a short visit with Kate before leaving for the airport. I encountered a problem when I tried to wake her. This was one of several mornings when she didn’t want to get up. Unlike those in the past, however, she seemed unusually tired and just couldn’t make the effort. I thought that when I told her that Ken and Virginia were coming over to say goodbye, she would give in. She wouldn’t. In fact, she started to cry. I decided not to push her. She had gotten to bed later three nights in a row. I believe it just caught up with her.

I visited with Ken and Virginia while she continued to sleep. I checked on her once to see if she was awake. I asked her if she thought she would be able to get up to tell them goodbye. She said she wasn’t. I asked if they could come to the bedroom to see her. I thought she would say no and decided to get dressed. I was wrong. She said that would be fine. I went back to the family room.

As it neared the time they needed to leave for the airport, I went back. She was awake. I went through the same routine. This time she agreed to get up. With her cooperation, I was able to get her dressed in record time, and everyone got to say their goodbyes. Patience had prevailed.

The second situation did not go so well. I washed our sheets during the afternoon and had put on the bottom sheet when she wanted to get ready for bed. She had her night gown on when I told her it was time for her meds. She thought I meant for her to take off the gown. As she started to take it off, I said, “No, you don’t need to take off your gown.” It was too late, and she was irritated with me for not being clear about what I wanted her to do. Then she got into bed. I told her she needed to sit up to take her pills. She wanted me to give them to her while she was lying in bed. I told her that she might spill the water or choke when she swallowed. I decided to let her try it. She immediately spilled water on herself and sat up. Then she took the pills.

After that, she got back in bed with her head at the foot of the bed. I told her to turn around so that I could finish making up the bed. That irritated her, and she and said, “You can do it like this.” I explained that I needed to put on the top sheet, blanket, and spread, and I would cover her head. She was insistent about not moving. That is what led me to do the wrong thing. I decided to take what I thought was a lighthearted approach and pulled the top sheet over her. When I brought the sheet over her head, she was furious. That is when I did what I should have done. I told her I was going to the family room to watch the 49ers/Packers’ game and to call me when I could make up the bed.

Fifteen minutes later I went back to the bedroom. When I walked in the room, I said, “I think I’ll get ready to take my shower, but first, I’d like to make up the bed.” She said, “Could I help you?” I readily accepted her offer. When the bed was made, I thanked her and gave her a big hug. The crisis was over. She was fine after that.

I am reminded of something I heard many years ago. A local child psychologist told me that “No” is the most powerful word a child can utter. He suggested that parents try to avoid getting into situations that lead to a child’s using it. That is because most of the exits lead to other problems. I believe the same is true with people with dementia. Kate was resistant to my asking her to get up and let me make up the bed. My effort to get her off the bed caused her to dig in her heals. She wasn’t moving. She doesn’t like to be pushed. I know that, but I have never seen her respond this way before and don’t want to see it again.

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