Rather than to hire someone with dementia to do a job, it’s easier to do it yourself.

February 14, 2008 by  
Filed under ALZHEIMER'S

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Once we got my 95-year-old grandmother washing dishes again, we began looking around for other things she could do. We weren’t going to send her back into the job market, but we were inspired by our successes at the kitchen sink to expand to other areas.

Let me tell you, it was hard to find work for her.

I’ve listed her disabilities several times, any one of which would have qualified her to receive disability payments even at a younger age. That is, the government doesn’t expect people with her capabilities to be able to do anything useful. So we were pretty limited with our options.

She couldn’t drive. Not that she had actually stopped driving when she began to go blind – she waited to stop driving until she was really blind. I know. I was in the back seat on one of her last trips. We weren’t killed. We didn’t even hit anybody. But that was not because of her driving. It was because the age of miracles has not quite ended.

She couldn’t use the stove. She couldn’t see the flame, so she frequently left it on. My uncle used to come over to the house to turn it off. Maybe she could have sauteed something under our supervision. But we couldn’t stand to watch her do that. A circus might have paid her to try: “And now, in ring number one, we present GRANDMA…. the blind chef! Watch as she braves high flames without even knowing it.”

You see, it’s hard work putting someone with Alzheimer’s to work. Our paid caregiver had never heard of such a thing. For goodness sakes, the state pays caregivers to provide homemaking services for people like my grandmother (not very many hours, in not very many states, but a few hours a week in ours.) Had anybody in the Department of Senior Welfare ever thought to pay caregivers to supervise their clients in doing their own homemaking? Apparently not. At first, our paid caregiver would help my grandmother wash the dishes, but she eventually stopped because it was too hard. For her, I mean, not for my grandmother.

It was hard. It was more work for us than if we did the work ourselves. But we wanted to enter into my grandmother’s world. Barry Weber realized that it was easier to tell his mother that he would keep her snacks from being stolen than it was to insist that nobody was stealing them. For us, entering my grandmother’s world was sometimes the easy way, but often it was harder. Still, we resolved to enter a world in which my grandmother could still try to be the homemaker and hostess that she used to be, and desperately wanted to be now. Nothing worried her more than her inactivity.

And we did it. Tearing up lettuce, washing dishes, cleaning the sink, folding laundry. Once she even peeled potatoes – with a real knife, not a safe potato peeler. “I don’t know how to use these what-you-call-it,” she said about the potato peeler. But she didn’t cut herself. She had been peeling potatoes with a knife for about 90 years. Me, I would have cut myself.

With every chore, we asked ourselves, “Could Grandma do this instead of us, or with us?” Or we would take parts of chores, and give them to her, letting her do what she could. Or what she couldn’t. Like I said, it was her house. It wasn’t really any of our business if we had to do the chores over again when she was done. We would have had to do them even if she didn’t attempt them first. But when she got to try, she was happier.

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