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I have this odd little fear that rises up in my heart when I take my residents outside of the memory care community. It’s not a fear of losing someone in a crowd, or the fear that a resident will become agitated (although those fears are present.) It’s a fear that other people won’t understand dementia. It’s a fear that someone, an outsider to our memory care world, will be unkind to a resident.

While I think it’s completely normal when a resident asks me the same question five times in the course of a conversation, a waitress may not feel the same. Some of my residents will also interact with anyone and everyone. While I think that this is wonderful, a stranger who wants to be left alone may be caught off guard.

The best example of this is when we took some residents to a restaurant. Many of the residents we take out keep to themselves and the group, but a couple are very outgoing. One of my favorite residents, who doesn’t speak about 95% of the time, loves to meet people.

As we were leaving she went up to each table and smiled, mimed, and touched the restaurant patrons’ faces. She actually sat down at one table and put her arm around a man. I tried to gently coax her to leave the seat, but she smiled at her new friend. He looked surprised, and I became nervous. What could I do if this guy got angry? It would be hard to quickly explain that we were memory care.

The man’s wife grinned and laughed. He smiled, albeit a little awkwardly. My resident kissed his cheek, smiled, stood up, and left the restaurant with us.

No one was unkind to any of my residents that day. To this day, no one has been mean upon meeting our group. In fact, people have been decidedly nice and helpful. We were once walking a big group out of the ballpark after watching a baseball game. A stranger helped one of our residents under a tent overhang he hadn’t seen. She smiled at me. “I work in memory care, too, what community are you guys with?”

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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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