I’m a big fan of rollator walkers. Not only are they more stylish, but they’ve also got nifty little seats (for when you need a quick break) with a small storage area underneath. Those baskets are deceiving; while concealed by design, they’re actually pretty deep and can hold quite a lot! When I take residents out on our bus, I have to empty the rollators in order to fold them up, so I can personally attest to how much they carry. A recent lunch outing spanned nearly four hours, not because we lingered at the restaurant, but due instead to the extra time it took to unpack and re-pack the walkers (x2). It got me thinking.. what’s up with all this stuff?
Senior citizens, especially those living with dementia, tend to hoard/value/always carry with them certain items. Material objects can help to maintain connections to past social identities and roles, as well as to provide a sense of comfort and security. They can be so comforting, in fact, that we fill shadow boxes outside apartments with such items. One of the most common I’ve noticed are purses. Regardless of contents, nine out of 10 nonnas are adamant about carrying their pocketbooks. Most are either empty or strewn with tissues and reading glasses, but they’re always slung over shoulders or tucked safely under elbows.
Money is another focus item, and understandably so; it signifies things like security, control, independence, and participation with society. No money is exchanged in assisted living, so there’s literally no reason to ever carry cash. Most still do, though, regardless of the kind or the amount. We recently had to make a fake credit card for a favorite nonna of mine who was fixated on having hers handy.
Tangible objects can provide my loves with a sense of safety; being able to touch them and know they’re close at hand offers reassurance, especially when feeling vulnerable. Losing or having them be thrown away, then, can be rattling. I have a resident who, for whatever reason, is borderline obsessed with cans of ginger ale. A staff member with the best intentions recently cleaned out her mini fridge, taking out 10 of the 17 sodas to make room for other items. To say she was beside herself is an understatement. They were friends, she said, and she just couldn’t understand why she’d do such a thing to her. Needless to say, she apologized and returned them.
Discarding or trivializing someone’s possessions can contribute to feelings of loss of identity and independence. It’s one thing if we choose to throw things out ourselves, but if it’s forced, it can be devastating. So, we’ll stick with longer outings. I’ll unpack the walkers, fold them up, then re-stock on arrival, repeating the process when we head back home. We’ll make “credit cards” and offer ginger ales. Most importantly, we’ll provide comfort and foster security.