October 2011 somewhere in Kent, Great Britain
- Oh no! I cannot take it anymore! I will go crazy! I will be crazy like her ! Malwina was talking to herself, walking around the living room of a large Victorian house. Following in the footsteps of an old lady.
- She will drive me mad ! Said young woman again looking at the old lady who is so unsettled, she had been walking around, calling out and crying for the past half an hour.
It is nearly sun set! The old lady's name is Josephine. She is now 97 and 5 years ago she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. Malwina is Josephine’s live-in carer, she is new to that position. Josephine in Kent is her first private client.
Malwina wanted to work as a private carer, looking after people in their own homes, she thought it could be more interesting and more rewarding than working in a nursing home. But on the other hand, Malwina was dreading it. Having to move into someone's house and live with them for two weeks. The worst possible scenario for Malwina was to live with someone with Dementia. She was afraid of that and that was indeed what happened. Her first "mission" in a new job- a holiday cover for “a lovely lady with Alzheimer’s”.
Malwina wanted to travel while she was still young. The nursing home gave her a few weeks holidays a year, which was barely enough to visit her family in Poland, let alone further travels. The new position as a live-in private carer gave Malwina two weeks off in a month, which was the perfect start to traveling,
But it also meant STAYING LOCKED UP WITH THIS CRAZY WOMAN for the remaining two weeks of the month. Malwina could not describe Josephine any other way.
Observing her walking around, looking lost, asking questions, such as : - … "where are we ?" … "when are we going home ?".
All of which Malwina was finding very stupid at the time, because the old lady was in her own home, surrounded by her own belongings. She had spent all her life here in this house and now she cannot remember anything. It is crazy. Working for six years in a nursing home, Malwina listened to people who wanted to “go home" almost every evening, but she was able to understand them, they were not at home. Josephine is at home !
At that moment Malwina remembered the last training she had received on communication in Dementia. It was a few weeks before and Malwina was impressed with it. - Now ! What were they saying then ? ... Oh, yes. When client starts feeling lost, or stupid, I must make myself look even more stupid in front of them, so they feel better about themselves. So, now ... how on earth, am I going to achieve that ? Malwina was looking around the room, desperately trying to find a hint, an answer. Radio, some CDs ... She kneeled and looked thru the CDs. Some of them were very dusty, Malwina picked up the one which seemed to be played the last- had less dust on it. Twenty tracks, all relatively old: Elvis Presley, Dean Martin, Vera Lynn.
Josephine now exhausted, after all the trauma that she has just been through, sat down by the window, in her usual place. Her attention now drawn to this strangely acting, young woman. Who is waving her hands, spinning around, bending, jumping, and doing God knows what ? Her hair is down, and she is rolling it like crazy. Jo looked so surprised almost as if she had never seen anything like that before. - Poor soul ... she looks mad! What is wrong with her ... ? Poor thing ... She must be out of her mind ...
That afternoon Malwina discovered that she quite liked Elvis. Especially his "You look like an Angel" song, which she thought saved the day. When she was dancing to it very energetically, the old lady was sitting quietly, only watching her discreetly. - I am so tired. Thought Malwina, sinking into an armchair. But it is working ! Josephine looked settled, only every now and then giving Malwina a very odd look.
" Oh, my love, my darling, I've hungered for your touch a long, lonely time "
The playlist went on. And in this very moment, something amazing has happened. Malwina looked at her client. She was still sitting by the window, next to the dining table, dressed in her favourite pink jumper- which looked so nice with her white hair. She not only was calm, she even had a smile on her face and her big lips were moving, she was nodding her head and … Yes ! She was SINGING !
Singing along to "Unchained Melody" by The Righteous Brothers. Malwina must make a note of that ! That confused woman does not know where she is, what is her name, how old she is, she doesn’t even know whether she's coming in or going out ... and NOW she is singing EVERY WORD of that song ! Malwina was shocked. Unbelievable. Her eyes were full of tears- that is the reward she wanted for her job- a moment like this. Very emotional now, she looked up, there on the wall was a picture of a man. Josephine never recognized him anymore, but that was her late husband.
"Wait for me, wait for me, I'll be coming home, wait for me ... " song went on
“And time goes by so slowly, and time can do so much” ... Malwina shivered. It is almost like he is singing it as well.
To Josephine, Home is a feeling, thank you for reminding me.
Love, Malwina M. Gawron
Mental Health First Aider
Practice: dementia communication