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Three’s a Crowd

A couple of years ago, I read about an interesting study.  It looked at where, geographically within a long-term care facility, the most behavior problems occur.  One might be tempted to think that the logical answer to this question would be the dining room, or the shower room, perhaps.  But the number one problem area turned out to be the nurses’ station.

Now, if you’ve spent any length of time in one of these places, it’s not hard to envision several reasons why this might be so.  One of them is what I affectionately call the Peanut Gallery.  This is that line of residents in wheelchairs that inevitably gets placed across the hall from the nurses’ station, or along the hallway beside it.  It has been decided, by the powers that be, that these folks shouldn’t be left by themselves in their rooms.  Perhaps they are inclined to try and get up without assistance, and fall, or they get bored or anxious, or get into their roommate’s things, or any number of other reasons.  So they get placed where they can be easily seen, and given whatever assistance they might need.

This sounds like a good idea, but there are a few problems that crop up from time to time.  Perhaps Mrs. Jones has to go to the bathroom, and starts calling out for help.  Or maybe she decides to go and find her room, propelling her wheelchair down the hall with no idea of where she is going.  Mr. Smith, attempting to be helpful, starts yelling at her to stay where she is.  A housekeeper breezes by on some errand and stops long enough to tell Mrs. Jones that she needs to stay where she is and wait for help, returning her to her former place and putting the wheelchair’s brakes on.  Undeterred from her mission, Mrs. Jones continues to try to get to her room, but since her brakes are on her wheelchair doesn’t cooperate, and she ends up getting tipped out onto the floor.

Here’s an actual scenario that I saw played out not long ago.  Pearl, Mamie, and Esther were seated in their wheelchairs across the hall from the nurses’ station.  (Names have been changed to protect the innocent.)  Pearl begins to complain that her glasses are dirty.  (They were.)  So Mamie decides to be helpful, and takes the glasses off.  But instead of cleaning them, she puts them on her own face.  She then begins to tweak Pearl’s nose, grinning very mischievously.  Pearl is starting to protest this treatment, when I intervene and move Pearl’s wheelchair to the other side of Esther (who has been laughing all the while over the antics of her two friends).

This particular episode is not at all severe, and actually rather comical.  But it could have led to a more serious conclusion, if Pearl had been more vigorous in her protests, or if she had decided to leave the situation.  (For example.)

So, what’s the solution?  I honestly don’t know.  But I’m sure another answer could be found, if we put our minds to it.  Perhaps sitting these folks in front of the bird cage, or playing some soft music?  I’d be interested to hear other ideas here.  It’s definitely a problem I’ll be thinking more about in the future.

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