Old broom sweeps clean enough.

For several days last week Peter was in a real funk or “gray space” as Elaine Eshbaugh, PhD explains in “Sitting in the gray in dementialand.”  My husband would not be, did not want to be, soothed. Furthermore he didn’t want to be “there,” although he wasn’t sure where “there” was. “If you like it so much here you should move in and I’ll find someplace to go,” he snarled. The smiling granddad I wrote about here had vanished “into the gray.”

No caregiver who has made the heart-wrenching decision to put a loved one in a nursing home’s memory care unit ever wants to hear, I want to go home. All I could offer was, “I know you don’t want to be here. I don’t want you to be here either.” At his murderous glance I added,”But I can’t take care of you at home any more. This is the best place for you, the best place around.”

Then I made him a cup of his favorite Typhoo tea sent from England by a longtime friend.

Today was different.

When I tapped on his door about 10:30 this morning he had his winter jacket on. “I’m just leaving,” he said. When I asked where he was going, he admitted he didn’t know, but pointed out the window. “Just look at that,” he said. The sidewalk in the garden was grass-covered from recent mowing job.

“You want to sweep that up, don’t you?” I asked

He nodded. “I don’t have a broom though.”

Well, that I could fix. I asked a nurse if there was a broom I could use. She found one and out we went, Peter with the broom, me carrying his wastebasket. I fashioned a piece of cardboard into a make-do dustpan while he swept. He grumbled about needing a bigger broom and added that he should get paid. I laughed and he did too. Around the other side he pointed at the padlocked gate near the gazebo. He wanted to know if anyone used the gate. I don’t think so, I told him. As if he were a mischievous ten-year-oid, he swept a little pile of leaves and grass under the gate with a flourish. Maybe you had to be there, but we thought it was very funny.

Not so very long ago I complained about him sweeping our terrace constantly, even though I understood. He needed something to do, to be useful. Today I was overjoyed to see him so happy…doing something…being useful.

It’s the little things.


Elaine Eshbaugh, PhD is an associate professor of Gerontology and Family Studies at Iowa State University. Her blog, “Welcome to Dementialand, Living, Loving, and Laughing through Alzheimer’s and related Dementias” offers helpful advice laced with her own brand of humor.

Header photo: Lonely little petunia in a green tomato patch.


2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 


18 thoughts on “Old broom sweeps clean enough.

  1. Some years ago my NRVCS emergency services co-workers and I were invited to Catawba Hospital for a training. Part of the training was a visit to their memory care unit. What impressed me most was a closet that they had that had items in it that reminded me of the dress-up corner in a nursery school class. It contained hats and briefcases, and pocketbooks and other items including a collection of brooms. The residents could take anything from the closet to use, and the brooms were very popular. The staff would periodically collect the items and start over. They said that the residents enjoyed using these items and that it cut down on people “borrowing” things from other residents. I thought it was a brilliant idea.
    And while I’m here, I’ll remind you that you are my hero and you give me hope.

  2. Lovely! I think every resident should have something to do that contributes, that makes them feel useful and needed.

    Sent from my iPhone

  3. Love the photos, Peter looks very happy sweeping! Glad you both had a good day. Good article also about the gray zone, good advice.

  4. We just received notice that there is an opening in an Adult Home that my sister (with early Alzheimer’s at age 68) and I just loved when we visited there. We are all that’s left of our original nucleus, and she has been living with my husband and me for the last year. This was a wonderful thing to read, and it gives me hope for her to have joy. She likes the simple things, as she also is cognitively impaired. Thank you for some simple answers for a not-so-simple predicament.

  5. Pingback: New broom sweeps even better. | Dementia isn't funny.

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