Advocacy, Care Partnering, Toward better care

who is responsible when people living with dementia are robbed of their dignity in long-term care?

Of the roughly seven hundred entries on seventy-five pages of nurses notes I was sent leading up to the court case I had initiated to try to get legal control of my mother’s care, the only one that made me cry was logged at 9 a.m. on June 26, 2013:

The second-floor “dining room” was small, more like a kitchenette really. It had a table in the middle at which six residents could be squeezed at mealtimes, a recliner (of course!) in one corner, and a rocking chair in the other. It had sliding glass doors that opened onto a little balcony where no one was allowed to go, and, at the opposite end, a sideboard with a sink and cupboards above.

I imagined Mom in there, needing to use the bathroom, but not knowing where one was. Maybe she had cramps in her tummy, as she often did in the morning. She suffered with diverticulitis. It flared up when she ate nuts or seeds or corn.

“Where’s the bathroom?” Mom would have asked other residents sitting at the table. “I need to go to the bathroom.”

The others, if there were any there, wouldn’t have answered because they wouldn’t have known. They would have forgotten, just as she had. If there were no other residents, Mom might have asked one of the care workers. If there had been any there, they might have noticed the telltale signs that Mom needed to got to the toilet. The signs were obvious, as I had explained to the Director of Nursing (DoN) four months earlier when she had asked me in a phone call whether Mom was in the habit of squatting and peeing on the floor. “No,” I said, surprised by her question. I wrote her an email the following day (February 5, 2013); it read in part:

“After I hung up the phone with you yesterday, I knew immediately why mom did this “squatting” behaviour in the living room at [the Dementia Jail]…she was desperate to “go to the peeps,” she didn’t know where to find a toilet, there was no caregiver…to help her, so she decided the best solution was to go on the spot rather than ‘in her pants.’

Even in her own room, she needs to be guided to where the bathroom is. For example, she may be sitting on her bed, facing the bathroom door, she will say: ‘ need to go to the peeps’, stand up, turn right, and head towards the closet. 

It’s easy to see the signs when [Mom] needs to go to “the peeps;” she starts to look distracted, she fiddles with the front of her pants, she may stand up, she may put her hand on her lower belly or between her legs, just like little kids do.”

The DoN replied saying she would share the information with the staff. It seemed strange to me that she hadn’t figured out for herself what lay behind the “squatting,” given that she was meant to be an expert in caring for people living with Alzheimer disease. Mom’s behaviour was basically Dementia Care 101, or at least it seemed so to me.

Had the DoN conveyed the information to the staff (who also should have known without having to be told), and had there been one of them in the dining room that morning, they might have wondered what my mother was doing when she went over to sideboard and took a piece of paper towel from the roll that was sitting there.

They may have kept watching when she laid the paper towel on the floor in whatever space she could find. But when she stepped in front of the paper on the floor, unbuttoned and unzipped her trousers and started to pull them down, surely they would have intervened and taken her to the toilet. Or one would hope they would have intervened…

But no one took my mom to the toilet, so it seems there weren’t any care staff there to help her preserve her dignity. Where were they? Around the corner at the nursing station, which was no more than twenty feet away, having a chin wag as I had observed them do on many occasions? Or maybe they were busy with other residents? Who knows?

What can be understood from the notes, which were written from the perspective of the charge nurse and not my mother of course, is that Mom had a bowel movement on the dining room floor and then tried to clean herself. How must she have felt throughout this episode? Confused? Scared? Embarrassed? Ashamed? Agitated? Upset? Surely she was robbed of her dignity, and that’s what made me cry when I read the entry. When I flipped the page to find the same thing happened the following week, I saw red.

I remembered the incident of the dirty pull-up. The week after, Mom was without a pull-up under her trousers, which were wet, two nights running. The next Saturday morning, I found her walking naked in the hallway; her bed was soaked and the room reeked of urine. Then there were the times her incontinence pad was so full it had leaked, and created crescent-shaped wet spots on her pants.

None of these had been mentioned in the eight months’ worth of nurses’ notes I was sent in advance of the court hearing. But fourteen other incontinence incidents had been recorded. They all implied the fault lay with my mother, when in reality it was the DoN’s responsibility to ensure her staff met my mother’s basic hygiene needs. Had the Director of Nursing done her job, my mother wouldn’t have suffered the indignities she did.

Likewise, my mother wouldn’t have been chemically restrained with antipsychotic drugs, physically restrained using recliners and other means, hospitalized with thrombosis in her leg, forced into incontinence, forced into a wheelchair, denied the right of seeing me, her daughter, during the last eighteen months of her life, and left in the bathroom alone to fall, break her arm and as a result of the trauma, die three weeks later.

Robbing someone of her or his dignity is tragic. Neglect and abuse are criminal. Those who are responsible should be held accountable.

Note: To add insult to injury, there were no “public toilets” on the second floor where Mom did not have a room of her own (her room was on the third floor). So when she was “toiletted,” she was taken into one of the second floor residents’ rooms too use their bathroom. But if she “wandered” into one of the second floor residents’ rooms on her own, she was admonished for doing so, dragged out into the hallway and made to sit in a chair in the corner by the elevator. Naturally she protested by striking out, and was then written up in the nurses’ notes as being aggressive and uncooperative.

which way to the bathroom?

hail mary i need to pee

5 ways we rob people with dementia of their dignity

#mc_embed_signup{background:#fff; clear:left; font:14px Helvetica,Arial,sans-serif; }
/* Add your own MailChimp form style overrides in your site stylesheet or in this style block.
We recommend moving this block and the preceding CSS link to the HEAD of your HTML file. */

Subscribe to MAS now & get 5 free PDFs & a page of welcome links:

Email Address

Take my short survey on behaviour here.

1 thought on “who is responsible when people living with dementia are robbed of their dignity in long-term care?”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s