WRITING FOR A REASON

Seniors are the fastest growing population group in Canada today. There are currently five million seniors living in Canada, a number that is expected to double in the next twenty-five years. By the year 2031, a quarter of Canada’s population will be over age sixty-five. Right now, one in eleven–approximately half a million seniors– over age sixty-five has dementia. That number is also expected to double by 2038.

It’s estimated that ten percent of seniors experience some form of abuse. That number is thought to be higher for those with dementia, but because they are often unable to remember or communicate, stats are unknown.

When I was in college, taking the “Personal Support Worker” course, I did my placement in the dementia unit of a nursing home. My teacher thought I had the right personality for it. And I did seem to have a knack for soothing, reassuring and redirecting. I enjoyed the people; helping them gave me a sense of pride and fulfillment. But I didn’t enjoy working in an environment that felt so much like an institution. We woke people before the sun rose. And, yes, there were times when they were hauled from bed, kicking and screaming. They had dementia. We were strangers to them,  entering their dark room, filling it with loud voices and harsh, artificial light, pulling the covers from their bodies as they struggled awake.

I’d kick and scream too. And it bothered me. In my opinion, these people had earned the right to sleep in and wake when they were ready, not when someone told them it was time, not to “keep the place running on schedule”. It also bothered me how some of the staff spoke to residents as though they were children, or simply had no empathy or compassion for the people or the disease. So many, it seemed, were burnt out; a problem perhaps created by government cutbacks that led to short-staffed homes full of over-worked employees. I know not all homes are run that way. Many newer homes are getting away from the institution-like setting, and giving residents more flexibility and freedom to choose. I know most nursing home staff are caring, compassionate people. But I knew it wasn’t for me. I’d never be able to keep my mouth shut, or my opinions to myself, so I made the wise decision to go into home care.

My experience in the dementia unit of the home stayed with me, though. I’d never felt so conflicted as when I worked there. I loved helping people. It felt good knowing I’d made someone’s life better. But I struggled with the emotions. I cringed every time an employee called a resident “honey” or “sweetie”. I had to bite my tongue when they were a little rough or impatient with a resident because they were in a hurry. More than anything, I wondered, who looks out for these people? Will anyone know what happened five minutes or a day ago if they can’t remember how they got that bruise? Who will care about them when no one comes because watching the person they love forget them is too painful? Who will be their voice when the dementia is so far gone that they can no longer speak?

“Write what you know.” So I did. I wrote about the people and the disease. More importantly, I wrote about the truths and the emotions. I can’t remember for them, but maybe I can be their voice.

 

 

 

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About Laurie Gardiner

Laurie has loved writing as long as she can remember. Her first published work, “'Til Death Do Us Part,” placed first in the 1997 Cambridge Writers’ Collective short story contest. Her latest works include short stories, “Retribution" and "Thief," appearing respectively in Scout Media's 2016 and 2017 anthologies, A Journey of Words and A Haunting of Words. Over the years, her poetry has also been published in various anthologies. Her debut novel, Tranquility, published in 2015, by Escargot Books and Music, was inspired by her work as a personal support worker specializing in dementia care. In 2015, she graduated with honors from Conestoga College’s Creative Writing program. She’s a Canadian, an avid reader, a yogi, and a Gemini. She grew up on a farm in remote northern Ontario, and now lives in Cambridge, Ontario with her husband and cat.
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3 Responses to WRITING FOR A REASON

  1. Very touching article. You made some very good points. There are many great people taking care of the elderly and sick, but then there are those who really don’t have the empathy needed in this line of work. We all get old (hopefully), or sick, and in need of someone’s help at times and too bad there isn’t a quick answer. A new kind of convalescent home might be a good place to start. The one I worked in once was not a good place to be. I’d rather live in a tent.

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  2. Thanks for your comments, Kathleen. You’re right, it takes a lot of empathy, as well as compassion and patience, to care for people. Like teaching, nursing requires a certain type of personality. I believe most people who work in long-term care truly care about the people they look after. I think most facilities are well-run. Things are changing-slowly. But there’s a long way to go.

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