This weekend when I was home for Father’s Day, as I usually do I stopped by the cemetery to pay respects to Grandma Lola. There is something calming about having one on one time there, even though the person isn’t in front of you. This visit and a prompting from my friend Kim last week reminded me of something that I wanted to share.
As my mother well knows, one of the hardest things in dealing with people who have dementia is when you come to the point where their reality is no longer the reality that we all experience. They tell you things they did the night before that were not even possible and they see and experience things that we don’t see. In dealing with this, our first nature is to correct them and tell them they are wrong because we aren’t seeing the same things they are. Breaking this habit is so difficult to do because we want so bad for them to see our reality. This is neither healthy for the person or the caregiver nor all of those that come into contact with the patient.
With time, we learned to just accept what Grandma was saying. If she said she was at work or out shopping the night before, when we knew she had never left the nursing home, we just played along with her. We asked her things like what she bought or how work went. She would often have responses that correlated to what she had experienced in her mind. Agreeing with her made her comfortable in sharing. Attempting to correct her made her agitated and upset. Playing along was by no means an easy task to learn, but one so important for the well being of both patient and caregiver.
There is no book for dealing with dementia. There are help references that attempt to guide you along the way. However, each person is unique and different. Dealing with them in a way that makes both people comfortable is something that is learned over time. Equally important is the fact that although they may just sit in silence and not acknowledge your speaking to them, they hear you. They know everything that you are saying. Unfortunately, that means side conversations you are having with each other are being heard as well. So, talking about them in their presence because you are assuming they don’t understand you is definitely a misconception.
As most people, my family had zero training in caring for a patient with dementia and we had to learn as we go. It can be an arduous and painful process, but rewarding in the sense that you are left with a feeling of having done your best with no regrets when the caring time has come to an end. If you are dealing with a family member or friend with dementia or Alzheimers, I am sure you can relate. As difficult as it seems at times, remember that although they may not seem present, they are listening.
Have a great day and remember to be the reason someone smiles today.