Do They Know You?

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Many friends, family members and acquaintances have asked me the same question: “Do your residents know who you are?” Honestly, I don’t know. Sometimes it seems like many of them do, but I can’t be sure. 

What’s interesting about dementia is that a person’s long-term memories remain mostly intact throughout the course of the disease. While many of my residents recognize and know the names of their family members that visit, are they able to remember me? I’m with my 50 residents at least five days out of the week. I do know this for sure: despite my name tag, none of my residents know my name.

More than anything, I truly believe that many of my residents recognize my “presence.” Most of them seem to recognize me as a positive influence in their lives. Some will come to my office door to ask me if I’m joining them for dinner. Others will stop to ask me questions. Still other residents introduce me to their family members. “This is my friend,” one said, putting her arm around me while speaking to her daughter.

Sometimes I catch myself wondering if my residents remember me. I shake off the thought, though, because it really doesn’t matter.

Family members are always concerned that their loved ones won’t remember them. Just because the person with dementia can’t remember your name does not mean that you are unimportant. It does not mean that you are forgettable. The only thing that it means is that your loved one has a disease. You are more important than a name: you are a hand to hold, you are a familiar face, and you are a positive force in that person’s life.

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Rachael Wonderlin has a Master’s in Gerontology and is the author of two published books with Johns Hopkins University Press. She owns Dementia By Day, a dementia care consulting company.

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