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Before I say anything to someone with dementia, I like to listen to them. I want to know where they believe they are. In order to embrace someone’s reality, you have to first know what that “reality” looks like.

Oftentimes I’ll find that residents think that they are in their 20s or 30s. Some residents believe that their parents are still alive. For some, they are still in college.

MaryAnn* often believes that she’s still living in a dorm and taking classes. This is convenient for me because I can turn any activity or program into a “college class” with ease.

“Now, how do I get a code for that door?” she asked me, motioning to the locked door at the front of the building.

It is locked for a reason: we’re in a memory care community, and we have to keep our residents safe and prevent them from leaving without supervision.

I know her story because I’ve listened to her. I’ve pieced together where she believes she is.

“Well, MaryAnn, you have to sign up for some classes here first,” I suggested.

“Oh! Well, sign me up!” she exclaimed. “What kind of courses can I take?”

Conveniently, our chef was showing residents how to make smoothies. She sat down, excited for “cooking class” to start. MaryAnn loved the smoothies and even asked for the recipe.

She was no longer concerned with getting the code for the door.

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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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