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“He already thought his wife was dead, but that he was missing her funeral…so I just explained to him that she’s been dead for years.”

I cannot emphasize this enough in memory care: do not try to “reorient” the person you are caring for. This is one of the hardest concepts to explain to someone who is unfamiliar with memory care, or someone who doesn’t want to think outside of the box. 

Imagine that you are 90 years old and that you are convinced that your spouse has just died. You need to attend the funeral and pay your respects. Out of nowhere, someone comes up to you. “Don’t worry, your spouse has been dead for years,” this person says. This is a complete shock to you. But where have the years gone? Why can’t you remember that your loved one has passed? Have you paid your respects? These would be questions you’d ask yourself. This person has tried to help you, but they’ve actually made matters much worse.

I’ve encountered this same situation. Here’s how I handled it, instead:

“I’m so sorry to hear that. Are you doing alright? I heard the funeral wasn’t today, but on Thursday. Let’s go over here and not wait by the door." 

I then got him involved in an activity and he began to feel better. The key to memory care is to keep up with someone’s reality. It is never your job to orient a person with dementia, and I guarantee it will never bring that person any peace.

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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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