How much influence does the behavior of another have when dealing with a person who has a disability?
I think a lot, based on my very recent experiences.
My mom, 89, has dementia. Until recently I would have rated it "moderate." She seemed highly dependent on my father for nearly everything, from ordering food at the residential restaurant, to cleaning up after bodily functions, to even just getting out of a chair and/or walking.
Her short term memory is very limited, and she can not recall something that she was told or that she said just a few minutes earlier.
She will repeat statements, repeat questions, look befuddled at simple things and generally not look entirely cognizant of her surroundings.
The progression of her dementia during this past year seemed to accelerate as well.
And neither I, nor my siblings, really though much about this. We just figured that the disease was taking over, and that there really wasn't much we could do other than try to keep Mom as engaged as possible in life.
Dad, 91, was the primary care taker, and it seemed he had everything under control - he had hired part time help for her, they had their social cliques where they lived, made sure she got her exercise, and kept her engaged in activities.
My family just figured this is just the way it is, because my mom's mother also had dementia so we had some experience with this.
Then Dad went to the hospital two weeks ago with a pulmonary embolism that provoked pneumonia and a ton of other cascading medical issues.
Dad really got hit hard and today they are taking him off the ventilator so he can breath on his own - finally! In other words, Dad hasn't been around for the past two weeks to "take care" of Mom.
During these past two weeks Mom has had 24 hour, seven day a week, professional assistance at home.
And during these past two weeks Mom has demonstrated significant, and remarkable, progress against her dementia.
For instance, driving her to and from the hospital yesterday to visit Dad, a 5 mile trip one way, she knew where she was, knew where to turn, commented on geographical features that were familiar to her and demonstrated good spatial orientation. She hasn't demonstrated this kind of awareness and alertness for at least 2 years.
Since Dad has been in the hospital, she is much more aggressive in getting out of a seating position on her own. She is more mobile, needing a walker less and less.
Her dining companions at home have also noticed a much more engaged Mom, and have commented that she is making more jokes, is more conversant, and can follow discussions much more succinctly than when Dad was driving the train.
Which makes me question just how much of Mom's disease is biological and just how much of it is environmental.
We see this in workers' compensation cases too. People that end up on the disability rolls tend to adopt the disabled role. It's the old mind-set that if someone says what I am, then I must be; if you say I'm disabled then I must be disabled because otherwise why would you be saying that?
Then we see people like Australia's Rosemary McKenzie-Ferguson and her Bags of Love program that brings food and staples prepared and packaged by injured workers to injured workers that need some assistance and hope.
Or Carolyn Arambula and her Center for Injured Workers in Texas advocating and providing assistance to those who have been called "disabled" to realize that their disabilities can be overcome.
We've long heard that disability is a state of mind for the most part. I have always tended to believe that, having been through numerous life altering injuries and hospital stays in the few years I have been on this earth due to my failure at personal risk management.
I have been on the death bed, have had almost as many broken bones as Evel Knievel, and through it all have always come back for more action, more work, more productivity. Nothing was getting in the way of ME enjoying MY life!
And so it seems with Mom. Though it is heart-wrenching to see Dad in the hospital bed hooked up with all sorts of tubes, wires and other things that go "beep," the flip side is seeing Mom come out of her disability shell and doing more than any of us thought was possible.
I know that "disability" in workers' compensation is a state of indemnity. "Disability" is how we measure what someone's monetary value is relative to the system and how we ameliorate the financial disruption that a work injury causes.
But the term "disability" carries negative connotations. It tells the person so labeled that they CAN'T: can't walk, can't bend over, can't lift, can't this or that.
We need to change our labels and change the mindset that ensconces an injured worker who's life is altered.
Maybe this is pipe-dreaming. We encounter daily those who don't seem to want to change, or whom we think enjoy the disability life style, getting paid to stay at home.
But those cases are a distinct minority. The vast majority of injured workers are interested in a normal, healthy life and working and being productive.
It's well known that the longer someone is "disabled" the less likely they will return to work.
So why do we make people "disabled"?