A Case of Mistaken Identity.


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“Susan! Susan, can you help me?” Virginia* cried, following me down the hallway. 

As most of you know by now, my name is not Susan. Virginia began calling me “Susan” about a week ago, and it’s been going on ever since.

I turned, swiftly, and smiled. “What can I help you with, Virginia?”

“Susan, I don’t want to get married!” she exclaimed.

I was surprised, but this was a story I could definitely roll with.

“Don’t worry, Virginia, you don’t have to get married!” I replied.

“Are you sure? Who are they even trying to make me marry?” she asked.

“I don’t know, but I’m going to go to that wedding, and I’m going to mess everything up! I’m going to walk up to the alter and save you from getting married. I won’t let it happen!” I declared.

“Oh, thank you, thank you, I feel so much better,” Virginia sighed.

I have no idea who Susan is, but she must be someone important to Virginia. There’s a lot of mistaken identity that occurs in memory care communities. We have a resident who is convinced that one of our employees is her landlord. Another resident, Sarah*, consistently calls another resident by the wrong name. Even when the other resident corrects her, Sarah keeps it up. 

Sometimes it’s really convenient when a resident thinks that you’re someone else. For example, maybe “Susan” could help Virginia through any problem. Maybe Susan was a great friend to talk to. In this case, I’m pretty happy to be Susan. And who knows why she’s decided that I’m Susan? Maybe we both have the same color hair, or maybe we laugh the same way. 

Let her think that you’re Susan. More than anything, she just wants someone kind to listen to 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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