Until you spend a good deal of time with a dementia patient, you can easily overlook potential triggers that will create an explosion of confusion, fear and anger in certain people with dementia.
Take for instance, the simple act of getting on and riding in an elevator. I’ve heard that a way to keep dementia patients from crossing a door’s threshold is by putting a black strip of tape on the floor, or painting a black strip on the floor. Dementia patients see this as a black void and are afraid they will fall into it. I think this is what Dad experienced as we ventured towards the elevator. As we coaxed him to join us in the elevator, he jumped back as if he had been shocked. We finally were able to get him safely in the elevator, and had him hang on to the railing at the back for support. He was very unsteady and I could feel his anxiety level rise.
Fortunately, we only had to go a few floors up so the frightening incident for Dad didn’t last very long. He forgot it as soon as he exited the elevator. The trip back down was uneventful. But I remember that “scared out of your wits” gleam in Dad’s eye. It’s not something you ever want to see on a loved one’s face, but with dementia, it becomes an expression that one sees all too often.
What the experience has taught me is to be even more aware of my surroundings, and other’s special needs. What may seem like a routine, mundane task for me may be a journey of terror for someone else.