Do You Remember?

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I try hard, every day, to avoid using the word “remember” at work. You never know what someone does or does not remember, and I don’t want to quiz anyone.

I once heard a visitor ask a resident, “Do you remember me?” I cringed. “Of course!” I heard my resident exclaim, giving the woman a hug. Instead of stopping there, the visitor asked, “Do you remember my name?” Ugh. I bit my lip with irritation and anxiety as my resident struggled to remember the woman’s name. “Um, well…yes…it’s…it’s…I’m sorry, I must be slow today!” she said, trying to laugh off the awkward moment.

My resident doesn’t realize that she has a memory problem, and she’s upset and embarrassed by her inability to remember her guest’s name. This was awful to watch, but there was nothing I could do. The only thing that I can do now is tell you this: please don’t quiz someone with dementia. Just don’t do it. Don’t ask him what he ate for breakfast. Don’t ask her if she’s able to recall yesterday’s events.

What you can do is bring up long-term memories. Ask a leading question in order to get him to understand the context of the conversation. “Remember how hilarious it was when our daughter Sarah used to hide behind curtains as a child?” People with dementia retain their long-term memory, or at least many pieces of it, for most of their lives. You may need to assist with context, but focus on things that you shared with this person. Ask her how she feels about something, how she enjoyed her job at the local soda shop as a kid, or what her favorite pastime is. Just don’t quiz her.

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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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