Featured Stories Living with Dementia

Patrick Hurts: Dignity is not negotiable

“It’s still tried and true, with all the research and changes in technology, the one thing that is consistent is just listening to the residents. And dignity.”

Norma lived on the second floor of a nursing facility in Arizona, down a long, sterile hallway lined with metal doors that had little round porthole windows set into them. Day in and day out, she paced that hallway, past the cold and characterless rooms where residents’ lives were divided by merely a curtain. At 93 years old, Norma had dementia, and at the time—in the late 1980s—memory care meant something very different than it does today.

As food service director at the facility, Patrick Hurts befriended Norma when he came to deliver her meals and on visits he’d make to the isolated ward during his work breaks. Both had their roots in the South—he from Louisiana, she from Georgia—and the two bonded over their shared Southern heritage. “She reminded me so much of my grandparents,” recalls Patrick, now director at Bickford of Oswego, Illinois. “She was my buddy.”

One day, Patrick arrived at work to find Norma in the lobby, fighting off five or six staff members. “She was swinging and hitting them and telling them, ‘I’m a grown woman. I need to get home to Georgia. I’m just trying to go home to Georgia,’” he remembers. The altercation had been going on for 15 minutes, so Patrick stepped in to see if he could reason with his friend.