19 April

The Search For Memory: When The Mind Becomes A Trap

by Jon Katz
When The Mind Becomes A Prison

John has been at the Mansion only a short time, he is an intelligent and wry spirit. I was cautioned that he is subject to sharp mood swings and can get angry and verbally abusive. I like him, we have had some good talks in his room, he loves to talk and pet Red, he talks of his dog often.

In this work, I have learned to look deeper into the souls and psyches of people, the person speaking isn’t always the real one. This requires patience and empathy, I put myself in their shoes and try to see the world through their eyes.

John keeps mostly to himself, and has spent much of his life alone, he tells me.  He is coming to terms with being at the Mansion, it was not something he wanted, but something he needed. Every now and then, he wants to escape. It’s not really the Mansion he is escaping from, but the turmoil inside of his own head.

When we sit and talk, he is calm and smart and funny.

Yesterday, I was in the dining room working with Joan and I saw that someone opened the front door and I saw John was trying to get out. It was cold and icy outside, and John was not dressed for that weather.

Someone came in and opened the door and John stood in the doorway, looking out. He told  he was going out, he said friends were coming to get him.

He seemed  agitated. I have seen this before with some of the residents. They are frustrated and can’t  express it.

I have great empathy for this frustration, there are times I see when the mind becomes a trap, a kind of prison, and anger and frustration are an understandable response.

It must be difficult for you, I said, and John snarled. I went out to the car and brought Red in, I told Red to sit by the door. John is a sucker for Red, who grasps every situation we are in. He edged up to John and put his head in John’s hand. John said he wanted to go outside and no one could stop him.

It is not permitted for any volunteer to touch or restrain any resident, and it is not something that would be appropriate for me to do. I never put my hands on any resident, I will hug people who wish to be hugged.

But I knew he would pay attention to Red, and perhaps to me, if I was calm and understanding. He seemed furious. As angry as he gets, he never gets angry at Red, and always speaks softly to him and reaches out to touch him. The power of a dog.

John is not supposed to go out unaccompanied. I notified Courtney, a staffer and she rushed to the door to tell John it wasn’t safe for him to go out. The Mansion is not a Dementia unit, although some of the residents have memory issues. Courtney is small, but has a steel will.

The Mansion is building a 10-bed memory united right next door set to open in the Spring or Summer.

Courtney was impressive. She got in front of John and said quietly that it was not a good idea for John to go out in the snow, and she said she would stand in front of the doorway. I saw her poise and training and steadiness. She didn’t blink and didn’t move. Nobody was getting past her, I thought.

It was cold in the doorway and John towered over her. She made it quite clear she wasn’t moving, and although John glowered, he has never harmed anyone.

Just to be sure, I  stepped out onto the front porch behind Courtney. He would have to walk right over the two of us to get out.

I told him Red was waiting for him inside the door, and John seemed to get the message and came in. ‘Hey, Red,” he said, muttering that no one understood him.

I waited until another staffer arrived and Red and I left. I tell this story to illustrate the frustration of people whose minds can betray them at times. John wasn’t even sure why he wanted to go outside or where he would go on a gloomy and freezing night with no warm clothes.

I saw once again the amazing dedication and professionalism of the staff.

I got another example of how intuitive a dog Red is, there was no question that Red understood what his role was. These adventures on the edge of life are challenging and fascinating at the same time, I feel much compassion for the struggle of these people to  make their minds work for them again, and it must be a frightening and dispiriting thing to lose control of one’s own mind.

Hopefully, we can ease the struggle somewhat. I’m not sure why I am drawn to this work. But I am.

There are no miracles for memory loss and dementia, no magic pills or cures. But it is possible to life up these lives  at certain times and in certain ways and for certain periods of time.

As we were leaving an ambulance pulled up, they had come to check John’s heartbeat, he had complained of some discomfort in his chest. That was who he was waiting for, that was why he was standing in the doorway. He complained again, but sat down and co-operated.

I said goodbye. “I know this must be difficult for you,” I said, and he looked at me and turned away. We left.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Email SignupEmail Signup