Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Drinking the Kool-Aid

"I told Miss Colorado we were going to go home pretty soon," Mom announced when I came in the room this afternoon. "It wouldn't be much longer until we got the article done."
"Oh," I said. "Did you work on your computer today?"
"Yes, I got a lot done," she said with satisfaction.
"That's good," I said.
I didn't say: "You can't talk to a doll. You're not ever going home to Colorado. You aren't writing any article or book, and you don't even know how to operate that laptop."
I've learned how to hold a conversation with someone who has dementia.
A year and a half ago, when my mother had first entered "the secure floor" of a different assisted living, I didn't know how to talk to her. I arrived to take her out in the car one day and couldn't find her sweater.
When I told Crystal, the caregiver, that I couldn't find it, she said, "Oh, your mother left it in Mary's room. She was in there trying on Mary's nightgown."
That stunned me. I learned that residents were allowed to go into any room because they couldn't remember which room was their own. They were allowed to take any item or put on any clothing they found, without being told "That doesn't belong to you."
I realized why we had been told not to leave anything of value in Mom's room.
"We just enter into their world," said Crystal, so cheerful and crazy that she seemed like a cult member. "Joe in Room 119 thinks he's the captain of a ship, so if he tells me we're at sea in the morning, I take him to the ship's galley for breakfast. If a resident says we're in Disneyland, we're in Disneyland."
Since then I've drunk the Kool-Aid. I'm pretty good at interacting with people who are way out there in Dementialand.
Mom spent about six years writing and self-publishing her memoir, Adventures of a Telluride Native (available from Western Reflections Publishing). A few years ago she started typing up her five-year diary from 1936 to 1941, but that project got bogged down as her dementia increased. Then she thought she was writing a sequel to her memoir, and now she's not sure whether she's writing an article or a book, nor does she know exactly what it's about.
She was thrilled, however, when Emily bought her a laptop, and she likes to think of herself as working on it. With the help of her caregivers, she uses it to keep a diary of sorts.
This work actually is quite important to her peace of mind. It enables her to explain to herself why she can't go back to Colorado just now: "I have to finish the article."
By the way, Miss Colorado's real name is Anne of Green Gables. She's a doll Mom bought me ten or fifteen years ago, having originally named me for this orphan heroine in the novel by Lucy Maud Montgomery.
The doll has lived in Colorado, but I brought her back to California in September.
"She wanted to come visit you," I told Mom.
Since that day, Mom has had daily conversations with the doll, who stands on the table next to the television set and whose identity has morphed into "Miss Colorado."
"Here--she wants to hold your necklace overnight," I say, hanging it conveniently from her hand.
Am I playing along in the game, or am I as far out there as she is?
I talk to dolls and plan to return to Colorado any day now--as soon as I finish one last article.

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