31 December, 2012


Once a week I work a shift with a lady with dementia. Emily is very together and independent compared to other people I’ve worked with, but she does get people confused and embellish events over time. Sometimes she complains about her other aides and I have no way of knowing if a particular story is true, but it doesn’t really matter as far as my job goes. (The things she complains about are aides being incompetent or annoying her, not things that are dangerous if they’re true.)

For a few weeks she has been complaining about Marsha, who works the shift before me. This person has always been patronizing to both Emily and me, but today was the creepiest of all. I arrived at work and Marsha immediately told me, “You know, Emily gets confused. You probably haven’t worked with people with dementia before. They’re like children. You should be like this.” She patted me on the shoulder and said “There, there” to illustrate how I should behave if a person with dementia disagrees with something I do. “You probably don’t know what people with dementia are like. You have to treat them like a kid. If she says I did ___, that never happened.”

This was in response to me saying, “Hi, how are you? How has Emily been?”

Anyone can lie or be mistaken. In the absence of Veritaserum and Pensieves, I don’t assume everything is fact. But as soon as Marsha started trying to tell me about people with dementia and how I should pat them on the shoulder, I became sure that she has said rude things to Emily, because she is obviously a creep.

If someone is mad at you and you can’t even accept that they’re mad, and instead you go around talking about how they don’t know anything and anyone who listens to them is too inexperienced to know better, you seem like a huge creep because you’re trying to control and manipulate vulnerable people. Marsha knew that because Emily has dementia, her version of events is not going to be respected. Also, she had long since formed an impression of me as someone who was young and inexperienced, so she hoped that I could be convinced to accept anything she said.

Maybe if I was actually inexperienced this would work, and that’s really sad. The truth is people with mind disabilities are just people, but there is a big racket about needing to have “experience” with people with a certain diagnosis before you can relate to them or even interpret what they say. It’s not like people with dementia talk backwards.

Yes if you can’t cope with anyone being different, you probably shouldn’t work with people who have disabilities. But that’s a much bigger problem than, “Oh no, I don’t know how to work with people with Down Syndrome, when I’ve only worked with people with autism!” The idea that you have to read a book or have tons of uber specific experience to use your own judgment when relating to another human being is just nonsense. And it gives people a lot of power if they present themselves as someone who does understand this disability and is therefore the authority on how someone with it should be treated.

Before today I just thought Marsha was a patronizing person who understandably got on Emily’s nerves. Now I feel like she definitely is a creep, and although I doubt she’s done anything abusive, I bet she’d be great at covering for herself if she did.

Unfortunately, being a creep is not considered a valid reason for someone not to be allowed to work with vulnerable people. I have been working with creeps as long as I’ve been working. If I ever find myself in a support job where I do not have to interact with a single creep, I’ll feel like things have really changed.

1 comment:

  1. OH MY GOSH.

    Yeah, what I would've told Marsha would be something like, "well, maybe she is confused, but that doesn't mean her distress is any less real. And don't we have an obligation to help her however we can? Maybe I'll never find out what's wrong, or maybe it'll be something imaginary or something I can't fix, but maybe it will be something I can fix, and however it turns out I'm still obligated to ask."