Dear Annie: How do you determine whether an associate is experiencing some memory loss, dementia or cognitive decline? With a close longtime friend, you can usually note a change from the person's normal functioning. But if you became friends with someone during the retirement years, you often don't know what someone's level of functioning or personality was like in earlier years. In an organization, church or club, an older adult may have committed to doing a job, become unable to do what's required yet want to keep his or her hat in the ring and save face. We wonder how to approach this with kindness and practicality.
It is a wonderful idea to focus on issues facing older adults. There are so many of them, and the numbers are growing rapidly. Thank you for your interest. — Jane M.
Dear Jane: Judging by your letter, you're naturally thoughtful. Let that innate sense of empathy steer you and you won't go far astray. If a friend of yours shows signs of memory loss, talk to the friend one-on-one, and use gentle, non-accusatory language. Stick to phrases such as "I noticed you seem to be having difficulty with scheduling lately" rather than "You keep forgetting our plans." Similarly, if someone in a club to which you belong repeatedly fails to fulfill duties he or she signed up for, talk to that person privately and offer to help out. The more gingerly you handle the subject the less likely the person is to become defensive — but there's still no guarantee on that. Call the Alzheimer's Association 24/7 Helpline at 800-272-3900 for more information on navigating this difficult issue.
Dear Annie: I just read a column in which you advised a woman, "Tortured in New York," that she had a right to request a female nurse because of trauma in her past. Would you say, then, that a white person who distrusts black people has a right to request a white nurse? Would you similarly say that someone prejudiced against gays could ask for a straight nurse? Nurses are professionals with extensive education and training. Their genetics (race, gender, sexual preference) should not be a barrier to doing their job. After all, if everyone asked for a female nurse, then men would be barred from the profession as women de facto were barred from being doctors, college professors and business executives only a short time ago. Pretty slippery slope you are on. — Think Twice
Dear Think Twice: Of course I do not condone discrimination based on race, sexual orientation or gender. I have the utmost respect for male nurses, and I wholeheartedly agree that they deserve equal opportunities in the workplace. "Tortured in New York" was a survivor of sexual assault and had unique needs as a patient. As many health care professionals who have written to me in recent days affirmed, hospitals will do their best to accommodate such needs.
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