Sunday, May 22, 2016

A Whiff of Memory

He was diagnosed with dementia several years ago. His high intelligence beforehand, supportive family and set routines allowed him to live alone in his house in the country until recently. He came into hospital with an infection and delirium and is now waiting for a long term care bed. His body is strong and he is accustomed to walking outdoors. The locked unit is confining and frustrating so I try to take him outside for a walk a couple of times a day. He picks up sticks on the lawns and checks the downspouts and drains of the outbuildings. We sit at the lookout over the river and watch the Turkey Vultures circling above. Like many people with dementia, he has lost his nouns, including the names of his children and his deceased wife. I talk about our surroundings and he responds politely with normal conversational cadence and tone but the words he strings together make no sense at all. 

As we walk along a ridge at the back of the property we come upon a sweet, strong smell. I ask him if he knows what it is. 

“Lily-of-the-valley,” he responds without hesitation.

I pick one stalk of fragrant white bells and put it in his buttonhole as we walk back to the locked unit.


  1. Oh, Ruth. This is so touching.
    Dementia is such an awful disease. What a gift you give this man by helping him retain a small piece of what matters to him.

  2. Wow. Wow. I should see how my mom responds to smell. She has always loved, loved roses...

  3. Dementia is such a terrible thing.It hurts to watch a loved one have no recognition of family.

  4. Achingly beautiful, Ruth. Wow.

  5. Smell certain,y works for him. I am losing my nouns too, it seems.


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