Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Tenacious G & the Silence of the Grams

Tenacious G (a.k.a. Grandma) slows down to have her picture taken.
 A few months ago, a nurse at the assisted living facility where my mother resides suggested that Mom might benefit from Alzheimer’s medication. When I pointed out to her that my mother did not exhibit any symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease or even generalized dementia, she responded that my mother had problems speaking. I reminded her that my mother had aphasia—a fancy word for problems speaking—as a result of a brain hemorrhage she had back in 2004. For the most part, she speaks quite well, but occasionally she just can’t find the right word, particularly when she is tired.

More recently, Mom was in the hospital and in rehab. During her stay in the hospital, because my mother was tired and confused, the staff referred to her as “pumpkin.” They told me she had memory problems but was “a sweet little pumpkin.” This tells me that these condescending caretakers never took any time to get to know her. First, Mom is a defiant and intelligent senior citizen. Second, it is a bit traumatic for an 84-year-old to be yanked out of her safe and comfortable home and placed into an impersonal hospital setting. Add to that scenario 24-hour beeping monitors that make it impossible to get a good night’s sleep and anyone would be dazed. So cut her a break.

If they had any genuine concern about my mom, they might have found it interesting to know that she was the first woman ever to be elected to the town council in the Town of Boonton, had her own radio show, wrote a newspaper column, taught creative writing and even had some children’s fiction published. She was also the president of just about every club she ever joined. And it royally ticks her off when people talk down to her or assume she is demented because she has speech problems.

Tenacious G posing with the carp at the local plant nursery.

In rehab, because my mother had had it with being away from home and tried to walk out with suitcase packed, she was drugged with Alzheimer’s and anti-seizure medicines to keep her quiet. When she reacted to the drugs, they pointed to her behavior and gave that as evidence that she was surely in dementia. They were ignorant, callous and just plain wrong. She was supposed to be there for physical therapy, but she was so drugged up that she could hardly sit up in bed. With the patient quietly immobilized, they proceeded to collect Medicare physical therapy payments.

There is a prejudice against the elderly. If they express any sense of rebellion about their circumstances, get confused or say inappropriate words because they are tired, or in my mother's case, have aphasia, they are labeled demented and drugged up.

Let me tell you something about my mother. She reminds me of birthdays and anniversaries that I have forgotten because she insists on sending cards and presents. When we’re driving and I forget how to get somewhere, she remembers the directions and acts as a very competent navigator. Does she sometimes have problems finding the right word? Yes. The part of her brain that governs speech is damaged due to a doctor not properly monitoring her blood-thinning medication several years ago, which resulted in a brain hemorrhage. She is lucid and knows what she wants to say. I understand her because I know her well. Impatient medical professionals look at her gray hair and wrinkles and rush to judgment. She’s old, so naturally, she must be demented. Even one close relative, who lives out of state and visits once or twice a year came to that ignorant conclusion.

I really don’t know what can be done to educate doctors, nurses and allied healthcare professionals about the inhumanity of their expediency. They should think carefully about their actions, because the practices they establish today will come back to haunt them. If they do not take a stand against the disrespect and abuse of the elderly, someday it will be they, gray-haired and helpless, who are drugged up and forced to view the world from a perpetual narcotic gaze.