Mistaken for a Man.


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“Get away from him! That’s my husband and he wants to come with me!” Gladys yelled.

Gladys stood, holding Margaret’s walker, pointing at her female companion.

A number of staff members crowded the pair, attempting to extricate Margaret from Gladys’ grasp. They had to get Margaret into the bathroom, but Gladys was trying to pull her elsewhere.

Afraid that Margaret would fall, a staff member began to argue with Gladys. “That’s NOT your husband, Gladys! This is a woman named Margaret!”

Gladys was enraged. “You think I don’t know who my own husband is?” she cried out.

The problem stemmed from a few things:
1. Margaret had very short hair, which confused a number of the residents. Gladys was not the first, nor the last, to mistake Margaret for a male.
2. Dementia changes a person’s perception and reality. Just as many people with dementia believe that baby dolls are real, Gladys believed that this woman was a man.

The best approach here would have been two-fold:

1. Stop arguing immediately.
No one would have convinced Gladys that Margaret wasn’t her husband, so it was just agitating her further.
2. If the staff needed Margaret without Gladys, they should have distracted Gladys while getting Margaret to follow them.

Arguing—or reality orientation—is NEVER the answer.

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Rachael Wonderlin is an internationally-recognized dementia care expert and consultant. She has a Master’s in Gerontology and is the author of three published books with Johns Hopkins University Press. Rachael owns Dementia By Day, a dementia care consulting and education company.

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