Walking a mile in another's shoes

Visiting people living with dementia, rather than assisting their carers, was an unusual experience for Carol Brindley.  

This morning I am visiting a person who has dementia. 

Working with carers, rather than clients, this is unusual for me. I facilitate training courses for relatives of people diagnosed with memory problems; professional presenters offer communication tips, hints on understanding new behaviours and ideas for stimulation. I meet more than 100 carers a year.

Picture: iStock

Today I am walking in their shoes.

A tiny, neatly dressed woman sleeps in a recliner chair. ‘Wake up, love, Carol’s here,’ her husband whispers. I touch her arm gently and say hello. Her eyes open and she tries to focus, but I am a stranger and she doesn’t acknowledge me.

'I try to prevent the water spilling, but her eyes narrow and she feigns sleep'

Her husband goes out. I look around for inspiration. I spot some dominoes and empty them on to the table in front of her. She jumps at the clatter they make but tentatively reaches for them. She lines them up, moves them a fraction, then aligns them once more. She takes a comb from the table and brushes the dominoes with it. In a fleeting moment of concentration she attempts to balance her beaker of water on top of the small black rectangles. When I try to prevent it spilling she grabs it tight, her eyes narrowing. She abandons the dominoes and feigns sleep. 

Two hours pass at a snail’s pace. She toys with her food and constantly watches the door. 

Her husband returns. She smiles radiantly, instantly connecting through the love they have shared for more than 60 years. He offers her a custard tart and her eyes light up. ‘Aren’t I lucky?’ she says, beaming. Nibbling the crimped pastry edging, crumbs cascading down her cardigan, she wonders aloud if Carol is coming today.   

Her husband goes into the kitchen. I follow. 

‘Well?’ he asks, ‘how’s your mum been this morning?’

About the author

Carol Brindley is a carer development coordinator at Beechcroft Older Adults Mental Health Services in Berkshire

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