I used to work with the elderly in health care. One day, I was preparing a patient for treatment with some equipment. He was a man with dementia and could still talk and somewhat reason. I found him sitting in his wheel chair so I rolled him into another room to set up the equipment. Usually, I don’t know if I’m coming or going so I was making certain that I had everything necessary and since space was tight I asked him to hold some items in his lap while I got things together.
After he held the items in his lap a few minutes he told me, “It feels good to be useful again.” It took me a few minutes to understand what he was really telling me. I have a tendency when I’m busy to ignore what patients with dementia say because more often than not, it’s meaningless gibberish. We go to school way too long and we lose empathy toward our fellow humans (observe doctors) so I had to ask him, “What are you talking about?” He basically said that holding things for me made him feel useful again.
Q: How often have I heard people with debilitating health problems complain about feeling useless? All of those times before I didn’t know what to say. I’m not one of those people who have the right words at just the right time but this time was different.
A: Suddenly, I remembered something a man once said on TV and I told this to my patient. He said that we get in trouble when we confuse two simple concepts. GOD created us to “LOVE PEOPLE and use things”, however, when we turn these concepts upside down and instead “use PEOPLE and LOVE things” that is when we cause problems. Ultimately, we do harm to others and ourselves. GOD created humans and humans created things. I personally have never met anyone who LOVED things and used PEOPLE who was truly happy.
Also, I told my patient that, “GOD created you be loved, not used like a thing.” His entire demeanor changed before my eyes. Most patients are deeply depressed and often scared due to being in a situation that would depress and scare any one of us. This man was no different and he was a preacher. I could tell by his silence that he was taking it all in. A few minutes later he said, “I want to thank you. You telling me that really made my day!”
About thirty minutes later, he was trying to remember what I said earlier and asked me, “What was that you told me? You’ve got to something, something, something? That made me feel so good. It really made my day!” I thought long and hard but I had forgotten what I said! Those with dementia and I have much in common.
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