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One of my favorite parts of caring for individuals with dementia is watching their interactions with one another. Think of any classroom you’ve ever been in: there are countless personalities, numerous lifestyles, and genuinely different types of people to account for. A memory care community is the same as any other large group of people, but with the addition of a serious mental health condition. 

There are “cliques” even within memory care. People find like-minded individuals and pair off with them. Roommates stick together like sisters or brothers would. There are people who the staff knows to keep separated.

The most interesting interactions, to me, appear when two people are on very different functioning levels of dementia. Some of our residents are incredibly high-functioning; in fact, it may take a couple of minutes for a person to realize that the resident isn’t just a visitor. There are many other residents who struggle with ADLs (Activities of Daily Living) such as toileting, bathing, eating, or even moving around the community. 

Last night I watched, happily, as a resident brought one of the Clare Bridge Baby Dolls to dinner with her. For this story, I’ll call the resident “Anna.” She sat down and cradled the baby, resting its head in the crook of her elbow. Anna truly believed that the baby was real, and it was a beautiful sight to watch her engage with it. Other residents, however, seemed taken aback. One resident, who we will call “Helen,” motioned for me, and I went to her side. “What is she doing? She’s trying to feed her dinner to a doll!” Helen whispered in my ear. I smiled and whispered back, “She thinks it’s real.” Helen shrugged and smiled. “Well, at least she’s enjoying herself,” she said. 

I love Helen for this. She didn’t nudge Anna and tell her that the baby wasn’t real. She just shrugged, smiled, and kept on with her meal.

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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 two published books with Johns Hopkins University Press. Rachael owns Dementia By Day, a dementia care consulting and education company.

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