Don’t Cry in Front of the Baby

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Sandra was known for sundowning. Most days, Sandra would start crying around 3 PM. 

“Sundowning” is a common phenomenon for people with dementia. Essentially, it means that people will become more agitated, upset, and irritable later in the day—usually because they are tired.

“He’s no good!” she cried out. “He’s a no-good, son-of-a-bitch!” she sobbed. 

“Sandra, what’s wrong?” I asked, sitting at her side. 

“It’s my ex,” she said. “He’s a terrible person!”

There was no doubt that Sandra had been divorced for many years, and that her ex-husband was probably deceased. That did not matter, though, because, in Sandra’s mind, the painful relationship was still happening.

The only thing that helped calm Sandra down was her baby. Ever since we got baby dolls at our community, Sandra was easier to comfort. Her sundowning had decreased dramatically and her general daily mood had improved.

“Sandra, don’t cry in front of the baby,” I said, softly, motioning to the baby doll perched on her walker’s seat.

Sandra always carried at least one of the baby dolls around on her walker. She usually talked to them, laughed with them, and held them gingerly while sitting on the couch. 

“You’re right,” she said. “I can’t get upset with the baby here,” she nodded, taking a deep breath as she calmed down.

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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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