The elderly woman looked a bit lost as she sat in her wheelchair in the center of the recreational area. Her eyes flitted from person to person as though searching for someone or something familiar.
I was there to eat with Mom, but she was getting her hair styled, so I had nothing to do but wait.
I hadn’t seen this woman before. Maybe she was new. Perhaps I could help her. I made eye contact with her and smiled reassuringly. She seemed startled at the attention and slowly wheeled her chair over to me.
“I don’t know where I am or why I am here,” she said. “I don’t understand.”
I leaned down to eye level. I wasn’t sure how to respond, how to make her feel less confused.
“I’m so sorry,” I said, in what I hoped was a soothing voice. “Maybe I can go find somebody to explain where you are.”
“You’re making me feel stupid!” she snapped at me. She wheeled away before I could respond.
In retrospect, I can see that I was talking to her in the same tone I use with my grandchild or my pet. I meant well, but I wasn’t giving her the respect that an older adult deserves. I was being condescending, assuming that because her memories were fading, that her intelligence was as well. I will try to be more respectful in the future.
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