la·bel [ley-buhl] *
a slip of paper, cloth, or other material, marked or inscribed, for attachment to something to indicate its manufacturer, nature, ownership, destination, etc.
Labels, we all need them. How would we know what anything is? A hot dog could be mistaken for a sausage dog without the written or spoken word accompanying the item.
Yet, using ‘labels’ can be harmful when describing a person who has Alzheimer’s disease.
I can’t tell you how many times the words ‘aggressive’ and ‘clingy’ were used to describe my Mom when she entered the long-term care facility. The moment she was ‘labeled’ by staff, the more she behaved that way. No one took the time to ascertain why she was exhibiting these traits. Was she scared? Was she frustrated? Did she not understand their questions? Did the staff speak too quickly? Did the staff give her too many options? Did the staff touch her without notice? Did the staff argue with her? Did the staff ignore her?
What was the ‘fix’ at the time? Medication. Which in certain cases can be understandable, but very difficult for family to accept and watch.
Even the word ‘Alzheimer’s’ conjures up a ‘label’ for the general public. I can’t tell you how many people have said to me, ‘if I ever get this disease, I would kill myself. I don’t want to be a vegetable and disappear’. That’s a justifiable thought, but no one ever truly disappears. Up until the very end of my Mom’s life, there was a ‘spark’. A smile from a stranger, a soft touch on the arm, a piece of music, a dog, cat or rabbit, a prayer said aloud, a child visiting, all of these actions from others would receive a reaction from Mom. What did all of those things have in common? Connection and compassion.
So next time you think of the word Alzheimer’s, think of ‘child like’, not vegetable. Medically, yes the brain is shrinking, but individuals suffering from this disease are given their ‘childhood’ back. Warmth from the sun brings a simple and emotional awareness. Laughter is bigger and genuine. Inhibitions, well there aren’t any. Remember though, these individuals are NOT children, they are adults who bring with them an exceptional background and everyone needs to respect their life here on earth. Just like DNA, each individual suffering from this disease exhibits different and varying symptoms.
Alzheimer’s is not the end of the world, just a different type of world. Step into their world and you might be surprised, you may actually enjoy the trip with them.