The following story comes from Heather Luth, the Dementia Program Coordinator for Schlegel Villages in Ontario, Canada. It was quoted in a post by by Dr. Al Power, http://changingaging.org/dementia/the-hidden-restraint-part-4/ I encourage you to read the 4 parts of this beautiful post. Dr. Power’s and the Changing Aging team have been bringing me hope and strength, read on to learn why.
“Henry” has lived at Wentworth Heights Village for several years. He has a diagnosis of dementia, and shortly after moving in, he became very distressed about not being able to exit the building. He became upset on a daily basis, repeatedly trying to leave several times a day and complaining about being kept inside. Heather continues:
“While in a conversation with him one day about how he was finding living at the Village, he shared with me that it reminded him of being at the prison camp. He then told me about how he was a spy and when he was caught he spent several years in a German Prisoner of War Camp. He then told me, ‘Here, I cannot even go out the front door, like everyone else. So I am a prisoner again!’
“I asked him, ‘Where would you go, if you were able to be get out of that front door?’ And he told me, ‘I would feed the birds and I would sit in the sun.’ And so, much to the protest of many of our team members, I started to teach him the front door code. It took about 2 weeks for him to learn the code and to realize that it had to be entered both on leaving and on coming back in. After two weeks though, he began going outside. He would bring breadcrumbs from breakfast to feed to the birds.
“For months, he faithfully would wait for me at the front door to park my car and then he would open the door for me and would offer to take my bags. He often stationed himself at the door, appointing himself as the doorman to assist many of our visitors as they came and left. And he would sit outside, soaking up the sunshine, making friends with the other residents who also wanted to enjoy the outdoors.
Now, the plot thickens a bit:
“After about a year, we started to notice Henry telling the neighbourhood team that he needed to get back to his old place, just to check on it. Of course, you can imagine our response. ‘No Henry, you don’t need to do that. Everything is fine.’ Or, ‘No, Henry, you have to wait till your son comes and he can take you there,’ while knowing that his son could rarely make time to visit due to the nature of his work.
“Finally one day, Henry went to feed the birds and then caught the bus and headed for his old neighbourhood. We found him exactly where he said he would be: enjoying a drink in his old pub, grabbing a bite to eat and visiting his old house. He was quite happy to see one of our team members and returned home to the Village without any protest. Maybe 6 months later this happened again, and once again we found him exactly where we would have expected.”
“More recently, his requests to ‘go back home’ have been more frequent and our concern about his successful navigation to his old neighbourhood has increased. The team talked with Henry and he shared that it was important for him to get down there a little more regularly. To support this, they spoke to his son who authorized a companion who speaks in Henry’s first language, to be booked once a month for a trip to the old neighbourhood with him. It is now on his calendar and when he begins to talk to the team about needing to go home they can show him the date that has been booked to go with his new friend, and he looks forward to their date.
“He continues to go out to feed the birds, to hold the door open as a gentleman would, and soaks up all the sunshine that he can. From time to time he now needs someone to enter the door code for him, but we all do, as we know that having the freedom to come and go to enjoy the outdoors means the world to him!!”