I’ll be the first to admit— I’m not a patient person. I never have been. My mom often says, “You’re so patient with older people. Why can’t you be this patient with everyone?” I like to say that I don’t “suffer fools,” and that has become even more true as I age. There’s really only one exception to this rule, and that is with older adults, especially those with dementia. Sometimes I even surprise myself with how patient I can be. Of course there are trying, exhausting, and patience-pushing moments when working with people with dementia, but somehow I pull through with a smile. Whenever I meet someone new and we talk about work, that person usually says something like, “Wow! You must be so patient to be doing that.” I wish I could easily convey how completely not-patient I am most of the time. How waiting in line at the bank nearly pushes me over the edge; how a friend or stranger making an ignorant comment makes me grit my teeth. For some reason, though, dementia caregiving is my gift. I don’t know how I got it. I was very close with my grandparents growing up, and I think that helped enhance my love of older adults, but even that doesn’t explain it. I truly believe that you have to “find your population,” and by that I mean, figure out which type of people (if any people) you can work with. I could never be a teacher. I applaud the women and men that stand in front of classrooms all day. That just isn’t for me. A person with dementia can’t always control their reactions and behaviors the way that most of us can, and maybe that’s why I have so much patience. Most people can choose to act or say a certain thing, but people with dementia no longer have that ability. They are living in their own reality, and that’s where we get to meet them.
Rachael Wonderlin is an internationally-recognized dementia care expert and consultant. She has a Master’s in Gerontology and is the author of two published books with Johns Hopkins University Press. Rachael owns Dementia By Day, a dementia care consulting and education company.
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I wrote this poem years ago, but to date, it’s the most popular piece I’ve ever created.