“Your mommy… she no belong here,” says Sofia,* an independent aide who cares for a couple of people on my mom’s unit at the Hebrew Home. She wants me to move my mom to another unit for people in earlier stages of dementia, where the residents “no do pee-pee in the bed.” (English is not Sofia’s first language.)
“The people here … they crazy,” Sofia says, twirling her finger in a circle next to her head. “But your mommy… she no crazy; she just no remember, and she no aggressive like the others.”
“But she’s happy,” I say. “My mom is happy here.”
“How do you know? You see her for one hour,” Sofia says. “I see her every day.”
I can’t argue with her. I do only see my mom for a short time every week, although it’s longer than an hour. I have no way of knowing what she’s dealing with most of the time. Sofia doesn’t indicate there’s abuse happening, but she does feel strongly that my mom is surrounded by the wrong people, especially her boyfriend Kenneth.
“He crazy. Totally crazy,” Sofia says. “The worst.” She proceeds to tell me that his behavior is worsening as his disease progresses.
This isn’t the first time Sofia has given me unsolicited advice, nor the first time she has complained about Kenneth. Sofia has strong opinions about others, and she likes to voice them. In the past, I have disregarded them, especially the complaints about Kenneth, who has always seemed to make my mom happy. But for some reason, Sofia’s comments bother me more this time. Maybe it’s because I’ve finally reached a place of calm about my mom, and a part of me doesn’t really trust it.
I take my feelings to my support group and immediately conclude I’m not going to move my mom. Moving is stressful for anyone; it’s traumatic for an Alzheimer’s patient. But I do decide to talk to her care team about Kenneth and ask if they think the relationship is harming my mom.
“Theirs is like any relationship,” says her social worker. “It has its challenges. But mostly your mom and Kenneth seem to give each other a lot of comfort and companionship.”
“Does that answer satisfy you?” asks Nancy, my support group facilitator, when I report it to the group.
“I … guess,” I say, because the truth is I’m not sure. I don’t think her team would allow obvious harm to come to my mom. But overworked and overwhelmed, can they be attentive enough to recognize something that might not be the best for her when on the surface, she seems to be doing okay?
If I listened to Sofia, I’d have to conclude the answer is no. Yet I have to remember that though I trust Sofia cares about my mom, she has an agenda of her own, as does everyone else involved in looking after her. I have to hope everyone’s top priority is to provide the best care for my mom. But the reality is never so clear-cut.
There’s nothing simple about putting an increasingly helpless family member in an institution. There has to be a better way for our culture to take care of frail elderly people.
(*Sofia is not her real name)