The Home Country

4

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I had gone to another dementia care community to visit one of my ex-residents. She remembered me immediately, her eyes filling with tears as I walked up to her dining table. “Oh! You’re here!” she exclaimed, avoiding the use of my name—which she did not know or remember.

I pulled up a chair and sat with Helen, trying to talk with her while not completely distracting her from eating. 

Across the table from us sat a woman who pushed the food around on her plate. People around her talked and ate, but this woman just sat quietly. Her head was bent over her plate, but she just moved the fork around aimlessly. 

A staff member came to collect her still-full plate, but the resident did not seem to notice. “She hasn’t eaten anything,” I said to the resident assistant, frustrated that someone would take her plate. This was not my community, so I could not do much of anything. “She never does,” the staff member shrugged. “She thinks that she’s saving it for leftovers.”

I looked over at the silent resident. “What is your name?” I asked her. She looked up, surprised that anyone was speaking to her. “Ingrid!” she replied happily. “You have an accent!” I said. “Where are you from?”

“Oh! I come from Poland. I came here many years ago!” she exclaimed, her light blue eyes lighting up. Ingrid raised her head and put her shoulders back, sitting up in her seat. “I speak four languages! English, Russian, Polish, and German!” she added. 

Ingrid looked thrilled that someone had spoken to her. It made sense, now, too, why she was “saving” food—she had grown up in Poland during World War II. 

It’s amazing what can happen—and what you can learn—when you make someone feel important, even if only for a couple minutes.

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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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