Thursday, April 15, 2010

There Should be More Cats! (and Dogs!)

As I wrote in an earlier post, I'd been avoiding books that dealt with dementia.

Before I started reading Making Rounds with Oscar, I knew that Oscar was a cat who would go sit with people who were dying in a hospital or nursing home. I did not know that Oscar lived on a dementia ward. Had I known that, I might not have requested this book (an advance reader's copy), and I am so glad I didn't know and that I did receive this book.

My father had Parkinson's related dementia before he died, and my mother had dementia before her death two years ago.

Dr. Dosa, a geriatrician, knows much about dementia. He was skeptical about Oscar's ability to 'know' when patients were going to die and to go sit with them while they died. Dr. Dosa spoke with staff at the facility and family members of patients, sometimes seeking out family members whose loved one had passed several years ago to find out more about Oscar and his interesting ability. As he wrote about what family members had to say about Oscar, he also wrote about dementia, and how family members felt about and dealt with their loved ones.

When my parents were ill, I didn't have much information about dementia, especially not much information on how to interact with people with dementia. He shared what family members learned about dealing with their loved ones. One thing they learned was that being able to distract their loved one is very helpful.

Reading this book, I found myself nodding in recognition. Mom would focus on something that wasn't true, or something she worried about. She'd think that her parents (long dead) were coming to pick her up. I couldn't convince her that they were not coming, or if I did convince her for a moment, she'd just forget right away and come back to that idea immediately. I learned (with help from a very wise Therapist) that a better tactic was to get her focused on something else. Flowers. Her cat. Going for a walk. Photos. I learned many of the things he mentioned in the book too, but I felt as though I went the long way around, discovering things more often by anguished trial and error.

My mom had a cat living with her and there were other animals around too. One cat, Henry, would come over from one of the other 'houses' and ride the elevator in different buildings and wander into residents' rooms. Just visiting. I loved seeing Henry in the elevator. Mom didn't seem to notice how unusual it was for a cat to be in an elevator, but she was always glad to see Henry too. We engaged a pet therapist to come and bring a dog to visit my mom once a week. Her memory wasn't good enough to be able to remember between the visits, but when the dog came, he'd be up on her lap and snuggling right in. Her hands would rest on him, seeming to relax into his fur, and she would talk to him. He loved it. She loved it. I loved it. I felt as though it was one small thing we could do for her.

I wish we'd thought to engage a pet therapist with my dad, or bring one of the cats to see him in his facility. Whether or not there's a cat who can determine when a patient is dying, like Oscar, or if there are animals with more 'normal' talents (elevator riding?), animals help.

I'd been avoiding books that had almost anything to do with dementia because I was afraid it would be too hard, too painful to read. Instead, this was an affirmation of how hard it was to have a loved one with dementia. It made me appreciate all I went through even more, and reminded me of the loving presence animals can bring.

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