They all think I'm crazy.

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“We’ve got to get out of here!” she screamed. “They are dangerous people and they’re after us! They think I’m crazy but I know the truth!”

It was dinnertime, and she was upset, to say the least. If our residents get agitated, (which honestly, isn’t often) it’s usually in the late afternoon. You may have heard the term “sundowning” before. Sundowning refers to a person with dementia who becomes upset or aggressive as the sun starts to go down, or in the late afternoon. It’s often because of a basic need: the person is tired, or even hungry. In any case, this particular resident was angry.

“They’re after us!” she yelled, pointing at the other residents and RAs in the dining room. I walked in and went up to her. “Don’t worry, [insert name here], I’m here to help you. Let’s get out of here and go to a safe place!” I said with some urgency in my voice. She felt validated, because someone was agreeing that the dining room was unsafe. “Let’s go out here,” I offered. She stood up, suddenly calmer because we were leaving, and came out into the hallway with me. I walked with her and talked to her calmly. “Do you like this painting?” I asked, as we approached a picture on the wall. I asked her to tell me about the picture, and it was a great, calming distraction. After only about three minutes, we were ready to return to the dining room. She was calm again, and dinner was ready.

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Rachael Wonderlin has a Master’s in Gerontology and is the author of two published books with Johns Hopkins University Press. She owns Dementia By Day, a dementia care consulting company.

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