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Companionship or something else?

December 20, 2009
by Kathleen Mears
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For many years I have observed male and female residents develop friendships and sometimes romantic relationships. Such a couple lived here when I first came. The man was more alert than the woman. He helped care for her and also kept her calm. He did want to marry her but her family would not allow it because of her dementia. At some point he suggested that they be roommates. After getting permission from both families, the facility moved them in together. The ethics committee here realized they did not know how they would feel if they were the couple in question.

Over the years other situations have occurred between male and female residents. Some older male residents, entranced by younger female residents, wanted intimacy. Some of the men were stronger and could take advantage of the younger female residents. Staff had to be watchful and defend young female residents unable to defend themselves. Intimacy is something that we all desire. Each of us is hardwired to have those feelings and there may be no way to subordinate them in us.

With younger residents coming to facilities, different situations are arising. Some younger residents can become very fond of younger staff. To some these feelings may look like puppy love or a crush. But we have to realize that some of these younger residents have no outlet for their feelings. They may get out socially, but do they get to meet people their own age? Do they feel there will never find intimacy again in their lives? If so, that must be a very difficult situation to contemplate.

Staff has probably been told to watch how they act with residents. But do they realize how lonely younger residents can feel? Could a warm hug from a staff member be misinterpreted by a young resident? How should staff interact with younger male and female residents? It is certainly a difficult and delicate situation.

I have dated some since I came here. I used the Internet to meet men. But I wanted to reach out and try to find someone special. When I did not find that special someone, I decided that other things were equally important to me.

We may not feel all younger residents who live in nursing homes can find other interests. But staff can learn what they can do when residents (young or otherwise) want to move beyond friendship.

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Kathleen Mears

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Kathleen Mears has been a nursing home resident in Ohio for 20 years. She is an incomplete...