Good Intentions

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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