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I think there’s a lot that we can learn from people with dementia, especially those who don’t communicate in normal ways. I’ve blogged about a few of my residents with aphasia before, but there’s one in particular that always keeps me laughing. Truly, I’m laughing with her, because she’s always “telling” jokes. She has aphasia, which means that she typically has difficulty communicating verbally. Instead, she mouths words, dances, laughs, mimes, and points. I wish that my readers had the chance to meet this woman. When we play balloon toss, she grabs the balloon out of the air, wipes her brow with exaggerated exhaustion, and plops down in her chair. She cradles the balloon in her arms and sticks her tongue out, smiling, suggesting that she’s so tired from the hard work. She lays her head down on the balloon and pretends to sleep. The other residents laugh with joy, because they too love her expressions and miming.

A couple of days ago we were folding socks. This seems like a silly activity, but to many of my residents, it’s a great reminder of a life skill they used to do. This particular resident picked up a sock and slid it over her hand. “Mmm, hmm, hmm!” she said, moving the sock around like a puppet. She made silly faces, smiled, and did a little dance with her new puppet. 

It’s magical to watch this woman communicate with love, intelligence, and hilarity. She can’t speak, but she truly seems to enjoy each moment of each day.

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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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