A Place Like This (Home)

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“I don’t want to end up in a place like this,” she told a coworker. “It’s awful and depressing to have dementia.”

I tried not to feel frustrated about this. I looked around me, at my residents, at the walls decorated and bright, at the work that I’d put into the community—and I was angry at this person’s reaction.

It is hard for me to understand why some people think that a dementia community is like a punishment. But can’t they see how nice it is here? Can’t they see how happy the residents are? I asked myself.

I realized that I was probably being unfair, and that it was her right to feel that way, but it annoyed me. I have put a lot of work into each community that I’ve been to. I’ve decorated, hired entertainers, trained staff, and designed engaging programs for the residents. I know that she wasn’t attacking me directly, but I certainly took it personally.

It seemed to me like she—and others that felt the same—were missing the point. The point was that this community, this place, was a happy one. 

The people who lived there were not “all there” and were sometimes aggressive, sometimes unhappy, often confused—but for the most part, we made the best of it. They enjoyed and lived out their lives in a safe place that was designed to meet their needs. They laughed, they made friends, they danced, they sang, they played cards and watched movies—just like “normal” people.

Dementia care doesn’t need to be a prison or a punishment. 

The best compliment I ever got was from a woman who toured the last community I worked for. “Wow, I’m glad my mom gets to move here,” she said. “This dementia community is so much more fun than the assisted living building next 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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