Casual Fridays: Shining light on Alzheimer’s – “Toilet Talk Time”

Intimate stories about dementia

Casual Fridays are a series of real stories about people with Alzheimer’s and Dementia. They are positive, slightly sad but enlightening. I want to show that you can still have intimate personal connections with people with Alzheimer’s and dementia. Additionally, I hope that readers can relate them to their own experiences. While some of these stories may be funny my intent is not to make fun of people with Alzheimer’s. I intend to change the way that people perceive the disease by showing some positive aspects to aid in accepting Alzheimer’s for what it is.

It has been incredibly important for me to understand my personal relationship with Alzheimer’s. My hope is that these stories can help those additionally affected by Alzheimer’s disease come to terms with how it effects their lives.

A colleague of mine worked in the eldercare industry for seventeen years. He worked in nursing homes and residential communities as a Nursing Assistant, an Activity Coordinator, and a Life Enrichment Director. He currently works with a non-profit organization that assists people with dementia and Alzheimer’s. He told me these stories and shares my views on how important they are. He asked me to share them with you. Please enjoy, I will post a new story every Friday.

-Carlos Barrios, Founder of Endear for Alzheimer’s

 

“Toilet Talk Time”

104 year old woman with dementia

The oldest woman I ever took care of was in a nursing home in Colorado. Her name was Margaret.  She was born in 1890 in Jersey City, New Jersey. I knew her when she was 104 years old. Margaret was short, slightly overweight. Her face was jowly and remarkable for the magnifying glasses she wore for her failing vision, which made her eyes appear twice the size they actually were. When I would visit her in her private room, she would usually be sitting quietly in her wheelchair, doing nothing. She told me once shortly after I arrived, “You wanna know what I do all day?” She held up two gnarled fingers, “Two things. I sit here, and I look at the bathroom.”

As I got to know Margaret, she began to share her story with me. For someone over a century old with dementia, she had remarkable recall for events in her life from the distant past. She said that her parents were Austrian immigrants who emigrated to the United States in the 1880’s. They settled on the East Coast, in Jersey City, New Jersey, and made their living working in a fireworks factory.  She told me about visiting New York City as a little girl, in the 1890’s. She  loved the bustle and activity of the city, and when she was a teenager, she decided to enroll in secretarial school in Manhattan. I tried to imagine Margaret as a sixteen-year-old going to school walking on streets with cars, streetcars, and horses.

Margaret was very talkative when you got her going, and I vividly recall an exchange we had while I had her on the toilet one afternoon. It took her sometimes thirty minutes or so to finish a bowel movement, so we often had time to chat. So here was this 104-year-old woman sitting on the toilet telling me in great detail about the dream she had the night before. She said that in the dream, her third husband, who had died twenty-something years before, is driving down to Florida with Margaret in their Studebaker. The husband is in the driver’s seat with all of his luggage piled up in the passenger seat. Margaret is sitting in the back seat with all of her luggage sitting next to her. Suddenly, the back half of the car starts to separate from the front half, while they are travelling sixty miles an hour down the interstate. Margaret starts to panic as the car begins to separate. But then she notices that her husband is wearing a black leather jacket with two gold rings sewn into the back of the jacket about the level of his shoulder blades. She reaches out and hooks her fingers through the rings, and is able to pull the car back together.

I sat open-mouthed to her recitation of this dream. She looked at me through her extra-thick glasses, and said, “What the hell do you think it means.” I paused for a minute and then replied, “Well, maybe you were the one holding that relationship together.” She nodded her head. “You might be right. Can you hand me some toilet paper?”

Catch up on passed episodes of Casual Fridays. Here are some you may have missed:
“Coffee Break”
“Elvis’ 65th Birthday”
“The Silver Key Club”
“Pinto!”
“Laughing and Singing”
“The Task Master”
“Our 3 Floors of Memory”
“Need to Get Back to Clay City, Iowa”
“Fleas and a Feather Float Together”
“Once a Politician, Always a Politician”
“Positive Post-It Notes”
“88 Keys of Past Memories”
“Fathers of Daughters”
“Distinguishable Gentlemen”

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