I’ve been thinking about constructs. And what are those, I hear you ask? They’re the way we make sense of our world. How we construct our reality.
For my mother, living with dementia requires her to work around her disability. Constantly. Mum’s memory of even the most recent events is fiendishly unreliable. Her ability to problem-solve severely compromised. And her grasp of her current situation - the rest home she’s lived in for the past five years and the staff and residents she’s come to know over that time - comes and goes, all the time.
It’s like acting in some strange play with half the cues missing. Particularly when she’s just woken up.
This morning Mum phoned around ten.
“There must be a somewhere better than this,” she said, her voice wobbling. It was hard to get a coherent story. Turns out Mum had just woken up, boiling hot. Her heater was going full bore and the sun was streaming into her room.
“The staff here - they just don't care,” said Mum. “Not one single person has looked in on me. It’s shameful - it’s neglect!”
My first reaction was doubt. From my experience, I was pretty sure that staff would have already checked Mum several times that morning, offering breakfast and help with getting up. And that Mum, who prefers to sleep in, would have declined all offers.
That might have been Mum’s experience but it certainly wasn't her memory.
In the absence of recent memories, Mum constructs her reality based largely upon what she is observing at that moment. So instead of denying her reality, I started right there.
First of all I listened. It wasn't hard to empathise with how Mum was feeling. Both parts:
- physically - having woken up, seriously overheated
- emotionally - feeling completely ignored by her carers
Then after a bit, when Mum was calmer - and cooler - I made some tentative suggestions.
Could it be that her room was hot because I had turned the heater up the previous day?
“Yes,” said Mum, “that could be true.”
“And maybe,” I ventured, “the sun was unseasonably hot because at last the weather is on the improve?”
“Quite possibly,” Mum replied.
I didn't go near the business of whether staff had looked in on Mum that morning. That’s something for me to follow up with them. And happily, Mum seemed to have forgotten all about it. Five minutes later, she was feeling much better.
“Thank you for listening, dear. It’s good to talk to someone sympathetic.”
Mum paused to greet a carer walking past. “Here comes Beatrice. I love Beatrice. She always gives me hugs. The staff here, they’re so lovely.”