Life in the dementia ward

I finally had he chance to see You’re Looking at Me Like I Live Here and I Don’t, a PBS documentary by Scott Kirschenbaum. It’s the first documentary filmed completely from the perspective of a person with Alzheimer’s. It’s a powerful, heartbreaking film and reminded me so much of my dad’s experience in a care facility. It’s highly recommended viewing.

Like Lee, who tries to relate the fragments of her life that are forever escaping her, my dad resided in the “memory unit” of an assisted living facility for the last year of his life. He resided with a small group of other residents who suffered from dementia, in a secure wing of the facility. As the documentary shows, Alzheimer’s affects people of all kinds, and having a group of strangers who are suffering from a mental condition live with one another is a challenge. My dad, like Lee, kept mainly to himself, though he did have a roommate he got along with initially. The two would talk about “breaking out” and heading to the Midwest. Like Lee, Dad would set off the alarm on the security door. He knew he wanted out of the facility, but he did not remember where home was.

Dad and I at the assisted living facility, March 2011.

My visits to the nursing home where my dad lived were similar to what is portrayed in the documentary. The staff try to make residents comfortable, but the disease is not easy to manage. Available medications can put residents in a constant slumber, but without some medications, residents might be a danger to themselves or others. Yet there are also moments of humor and heartbreak, which are so tenderly depicted in the documentary. This is life in the dementia ward.

And just as I wondered about all of the other residents at the care center my dad was living at, I wondered about the other residents at the facility depicted in the documentary. Who were these people before Alzheimer’s took over their lives? What are their stories? I hope their families have recorded their memories in their own special way so their stories are not forgotten.

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