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Dealing with the fear factor of other residents

March 14, 2011
by Kathleen Mears
| Reprints

At first the behaviors of some of the residents in this facility frightened me. I thought the staff would use behavior modification techniques in these situations. However, they usually ignore negative behaviors and only intervene if a situation becomes loud or violent. This facility projects a loving environment, but it can also be a scary one at times.

Two weeks after I arrived, a traumatically brain-injured female resident grabbed my arm, held on, and scratched me badly. I assumed that she may not realize her aggression and strength hurts others. She is in a wheelchair and has an arm and leg to defend her.

After she scratched me I was afraid of our encounters, such as when I had to pass her in the hallway. Sometimes when she was in my way and I could not navigate around her. I also could not expect the staff to always be available to move her, and it seemed unfair to ask that she stay in her room when she was aggressive.

To ease my fear I decided to get in bed before supper, shut the door, and spend time watching TV in a peaceful environment. Even though the staff did not like me missing dinner and not socializing I felt it was safer and less stressful. By that time I knew resident outbursts were worse in the evenings and usually there was no other quiet place for me to be.

Eventually, I felt alone and afraid in my room and I struggled to keep calm. Many evenings I had panic attacks, which are unreasonable and difficult to explain. In the daytime I looked to the staff for guidance and saw that some of them talked tough, others joked, and a few got frustrated.

I knew I had to settle myself down. But fear is tough to fight. It is a survival instinct that warns me of potential danger. I finally realized that if I was afraid of the other residents, they were probably afraid of me.

The staff told me that some residents would check me out by coming to my room for a visit. They told me not to loan anything to the residents, including money. (That was not a concern because I keep no money and I seldom loan anything.)

The staff was then curious to know which residents visited. When I told them who, they were shocked and wanted to know how I handled the encounters. I told them I was kind, helpful, and I endeavored not to show fear.

I was taught that I should never act like I was afraid. My father said to put my best face forward and pretend I was where I was supposed to be. He said other people could not tell the difference. Those words have influenced and helped me greatly.

Five months later I am seldom afraid of other residents. Even though I cannot defend myself very well, I project a confident demeanor. That makes me feel better. Sometimes I even approach residents I used to fear.

The residents here are a paradox like most people. Some days their behavior is good. On other days their behavior is so off the wall that I wonder how they can undergo such drastic change.

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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...