There was a gentle old man (I will call him Abe) who resided at a nursing home where I was employed. Abe had Alzheimer’s disease. His face would light up with a broad smile when a child walked into the room. Abe loved to hold a kitten close to his cheek, allowing its fur to brush against his whiskers. He enjoyed the small things in life.
However, Abe had one disturbing behavior. When Abe was in the dining room, he would wander about taking food off of other’s plates. He would chew it up and put it back on the plates. The other resident, understandably,would become enraged and picked on him, and some would try to slap him. Abe could not understand why everyone would be upset with him. I could not understand why he would do such a thing. It became my task to try to figure it out. I began talking with Abe’s family.
Through much investigation, I found that Abe had been a prisoner in a Nazi war camp. His wife and daughter were whisked away. His father was attacked by guard dogs before his very eyes. Abe became close friends with a man named Ben. Ben, too had lost his wife and daughter. His brother was killed in the gas chamber. Abe and Ben would talk for hours about their families, their home and the good times they used to have. They would sometimes laugh together. Often, they would cry together.
Ben’s health started declining. The roof leaked, making their clothing and bedding damp. Their living quarters were rat and lice-infested. Ben became very weak. Abe would help him to dress. He would do many of Ben’s chores to keep Ben from getting thrashed. He did not even have the strength to chew his own food. Abe would reach out and take Ben’s food. He would chew it up in his own mouth, then he would put it back on Ben’s plate. This was the only way Ben could survive.
Abe’s behavior was out of love and concern for a friend. By understanding the reason behind this behavior, I could better understand how to help Abe. Abe began taking his meals in his room. I no longer had to worry about his bothering the other residents. Also, I did not feel I was triggering a horrible memory for him.
By understanding the behavior of someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s, it is much easier to try to find a cure for that behavior. Don’t just assume that someone is disgusting or vulgar. Take time to try to problem solve; you might be in for a surprise.
by Renee Robinson