The Other Side of the Door

One of the greatest commonalities among family members of loved ones who become residents in a secure dementia facility, is the tremendous sense of guilt they are left with as they walk away. It is hard to fully understand the overwhelming wave of emotion that can erupt once the lobby double doors finally come to a close; leaving their loved one on one side, and you on the other.

As a Social Worker at a secure dementia facility, which gives me ample opportunity to watch, observe, and talk to your loved one on a daily basis, I would like to offer you a look at this situation from a different point of view; a view from the other side of the door.

At the tip of the emotional iceberg, the loved one finds themselves experiencing an ongoing flow of nervous, fearful thoughts like: I always promised mom I’d never put her in a place like this. Nobody understands my mom the way I do. What if she thinks I’m abandoning her she has dementia, and may think I forgot where she is. I know very well what her needs are; what if she is unable to express those needs to the staff? What if she feels lonesome? Will anyone notice? All of these thoughts begin flooding the family member as they drive off from the facility, fighting away the seemingly endless stream of emotional tears. Added to all of this, is the fact that each case is individually wrapped in specific-to-the-family issues.

By the time your loved one moves in, the shame they feel about their mental decline has already taken its toll on their self-worth and value. Even though they don’t know exactly why, their hearts know full well they have become the dumping ground for odd looks and shunning. This comes not only from strangers, but sometimes from very near and dear family members and friends. For many persons afflicted with dementia, not one single person on the face of the earth has needed their opinions, ideas, or placed any value in their contributions to make life better in such a very long time. Placement in a secure dementia community however, can bring about positive changes for that loved one.

All staff directly involved with residents in a dementia community, are specifically and routinely trained to work with residents using a dementia-wise manner of care. Using this encourages and strengthens independence, self-esteem, value, and worth. Eventually residents seem to develop an intuitive understanding that they no longer have to play the almost impossible role of hide-the-fact-I-dont-know-the-answer through use of cover-ups, angry responses, or strategically placed cliches to get by when asked a simple question. Now they can finally let go and relax, free from the struggle to maintain that facade of a higher standard of cogency that was expected of them out there in the world. Succinctly put, a resident once expressed this point with these words, They don’t know how big a thought can be. Living in a dementia community, because they are unable to safely function in a world of big thoughts, brings up a big discovery. They have found one of the few places their abilities are not only accepted, but where they are encouraged as well, thus enabling them to flourish.

Having settled into workable routines where their basic needs are continuously met, they feel loved, are warm, well fed, well groomed, and developing a sense of belonging in the family. They begin feeling the need to get more out of life again. In turn, their mood-state and psychosocial well-being start to become healthier.

Finally, what I have NEVER seen is a tormented, desperate, dejected, lonely individual whose heart feels empty and whose soul feels abandoned. Most likely by now you have realized that as the disease progresses, their reality drifts further away from ours. We can’t dare choose whose reality is the best, theirs or ours? Their world brings joy and happiness, just like ours. Their world brings adventures and surprises, just like ours. Their world has hopes and dreams, just like ours. However, unlike ours, they are no longer troubled with worries and fears that cannot easily be fixed and righted. That being said, at times it is difficult to know whose reality really is the better. If you are ever faced with this difficult situation, I can only hope that this new knowledge will give you a little more peace of mind once you are left standing on the other side of the door.