Flushing – taken for granted

August 17, 2016 § 2 Comments


On an airline, we search for the lavatory door ofttimes considering the pilot’s locked door. We have to determine whether it is available and look at the door opener gismo hoping to intuitively figure out how it works so we won’t be embarrassed by asking for help. 

flushImagine that you have dementia and while feeling the pressure of having to ‘go’, ask yourself what does vacant/occupied mean, how does it work, is it even a door, is it private and will I be surprised or confused by what’s inside.  What is flush or a call button? How do I turn on the water to wash my hands? What to do with soiled toilet paper? Am I hearing an announcement telling me to return to my seat; is it the toilet seat, the one I’m on? Do I know how to get out and where do I go? Am I having an emergency, are we landing  …wait, how do I get rid of the stuff I’m leaving behind???

Flushing, knowing what it is and how to do it is something we take for granted but to my sweet husband, it is another very confusing activity of daily living.  On our recent trip, he returned to his seat and asked me how he gets rid of “it.”  I hadn’t prepared him beforehand, I hadn’t thought of that. He wanted to know what does the flush look like, is it in front or behind him when he’s seated or standing, is it behind the lid and how does he  lower the lid.

He tried to reassure me that there was no problem, this time. Three days later, when he asked if something interesting was on my screen, I said I was writing about flushing, he said “it wasn’t a problem, he flushed the second time and it’s done” meaning that training works! 

Being one step ahead and keeping my loved one safe is a constant learning experience and I should have been the next restroom guest in line.  I worry about a real emergency in the restroom; he could not press a brightly colored button or pull a cord to summon help. 

And a comment about why he needs to use the restroom so often. He gives me a variety of reasons besides the two I already know,  anxiety and obsessiveness.  He must do this for fear that, unknowingly, he will lose it. This  recently happened, could not explain why but it embarrassed him. I understand a little more now.  Flow just comes when you have dementia. It becomes mysterious.  Unlike a child’s discovery of mastery over bodily functions and delight, in dementia there is only loss and sadness. We will work hard to keep it together for dignity and pride.

§ 2 Responses to Flushing – taken for granted

  • TANYA BODZIN says:

    Ruth, You said it all beautifully. So many things we take for granted are wiped from the memory of our loved ones forever. It is the care givers task to handle it all with pride and dignity for our loved one and at times it is overwhelming… I know. Tanya

    • Ruth Altheim says:

      Good morning Tanya, every activity had so many smaller ‘bits’ like the lavatory. Thank you for your kind comment. Have a grand day. I hope you & Steve are well.

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