Challenges & Solutions, Toward better care, Videos

how my mom’s affection got mislabelled “aggression”

My mom had an unflaggingly positive attitude, as you will hear in the video at the end of this post. It features an audio clip I recorded on Mom’s 87th birthday in 2015; the last one we would have together. When I suggested to Mom that she needed a new sweater because the one she had on was moth eaten, she responded “It’s getting better.”

Everything was always “getting better” as far as Mom was concerned.

She was also outgoing, friendly, interested, engaging, and invariably the life of the party. She adored people, and was highly socially adept. So how did she come to be labelled “violent” and “aggressive” after she moved into a long-term care facility? There was a cluster of reasons, none of which were here fault, nor the fault of dementia. Ironically, one of the reasons was love.

Mom had a habit of giving people what she called “love taps,” light, rapid-fire pats on the hand, arm, cheek, bottom, or whatever recipient body part happened to be in close enough for her to reach. She had done this, as a sign of affection, for as long as I can remember. As her Alzheimer evolved, and her ability to verbally articulate her emotions declined, “love taps” and clapping often replaced words. She used them to express delight, happiness, frustration, and displeasure.

Unfortunately, her love taps and clapping were sometimes not well received, particularly (and understandably), by other residents who lived with dementia, and who didn’t “get” what these “slaps” were about.

But the staff should have known better. Sadly, instead of looking at the meaning of the behaviour, they labeled it “violent” and “aggressive,” and, as a result, Mom was medicated with dangerous and debilitating antipsychotic drugs.

I think that’s abuse. What do you think?

This video is part of a series extracted from a care conversation with my writer friend Lorrie B. “I’m keen for others to know the reality of my mother’s and my experience of long-term ‘care, and you’re the perfect one to help me do it,” I told Lorrie on Mom’s birthday in 2017.At this point, Lorrie had been the primary care partner to her own parents for three years, and they were still in their own home. She also had (and still has) her own blog called Unforgettable (I wish I were half the writer she is), which I highly recommend following (I do!). The other posts in the series are here.

20 questions that help explain why people with dementia get agitated and physically aggressive

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Image copyright: lonely11 / 123RF Stock Photo

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