Mary’s tests showed that her vestibular system was declining due to age. Presbyequilibrium is a result of the reduction in the gelatinous substance in the otoconial mass, causing the inability to sense gravity and linear acceleration. Aging also contributes to a loss of the sensory hair cells in the vestibular organs. Because of macular degeneration, Mary’s vision was failing which also contributed to her vertigo. With no cure for her vestibular function loss, she came home with a list of balance exercises and began to use a walker to steady herself.
Even though I no longer massage Mary, I still pop into her room to visit. Mary can’t remember my name, but does recognize me. Amazingly, she can remember the names of my children whom she has never met, having only listened to my stories of them. She told me the nurses don’t want her to leave her easy chair without someone in her room. She no longer has the strength or balance to walk unassisted. She’s not very happy about this and jokingly threatens to stand in her doorway and put one toe out in the hallway just to show that she can.
Because of Mary, I’ve continued my studies in neurobiology and brain function to better understand the neurobiological challenges that my geriatric clients face. I have applied my learning to the issues of balance, vertigo, memory loss, peripheral neuropathy, and muscle weakness that affect my clients. Now I understand working memory and why a resident can’t remember my name, yet can relate stories from their childhood. The loss of memory, hearing, balance and vision, and chronic pain can be part of aging. I recognize the anxiety felt when one’s perceived world is shrinking because input to the brain and the brain itself is failing. Facing this unpredictable decline is a harsh reality that I hope to mitigate somewhat with my increased neurobiological understanding and caring touch.