Thursday, May 29, 2014

Why respect and dignity matter

John Wyatt's mother had dementia.

"To begin with, the changes were subtle," he says. "Unexplained anxiety and tearfulness, episodes of uncharacteristic blankness, irritation and anger with medics and their pointless tests. As the dementing process continued, my mother tragically changed and aged before our eyes. Her confusion increased, she was frequently distressed by terrifying visual hallucinations. Her limbs became permanently flexed and distorted. Visiting her on the acute psychogeriatric ward, I remember being overwhelmed by grief at her obvious distress and fear. I wept in the consultant's office, powerless to do anything to alleviate my mother's anguish.

"Thankfully that dreadful period passed. Quetiapine had a remarkable effect in improving the psychotic symptoms, and compassionate and skilled nursing and medical care transformed my mother's condition. She became peaceful and relaxed. Although she could not communicate, she enjoyed holding hands with my father, listening to music, sometimes even singing along, especially to old hymns from her childhood in the Christian Brethren.

"My father was tireless in visiting her, spending hours every day at her bedside. It was very important to him that the staff knew about her past, knew the sort of person Grace used to be. He put photographs on the wall - this is what she used to be. Grace with her children, Grace at the nursery school she pioneered, Grace laughing delightedly with a little child. . . 

"It mattered that the staff treated her with respect and dignity, because of who she really was. She was so much more than this little aged, distorted, pathetic being appeared to be. . .

"But as our family spent time with my mother we were sometimes reminded that this was not the end of the story. As the family met at her bedside, in those occasional but special times of prayer and singing, although my mother could not speak and sometimes did not even recognise us, we knew that we shared in the Christian hope. This was not the end of the story."

In an article in Triple Helix, John says that caring for people with dignity, respect and love is always important. The worst of people can be transformed and enter into the new creation. With his mother, they had an assurance.

"By God's grace, those who were round her bedside will meet my mother again. And together we will walk and laugh and sing in the new heaven and new earth. The love poured out years ago has not been lost or forgotten."

You can read the full article here.

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