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“Everything is on FIRE!” Julia screamed. “Can’t you see it?!” she yelled, grabbing at my hands and our Med Tech’s hands, attempting to steady herself without her walker. 

Julia was having an episode of some sort, and she believed our entire building was engulfed in flames. 

“Julia, where do you see fire?” I asked. “Point to it." 

"It’s right BEHIND YOU!” she screamed.  

I wanted to know if she was actively hallucinating, and it was clear that she was. Everywhere we walked with her, she screamed about fire. She wouldn’t sit down, fearful that flames would engulf her.

Nothing calmed her down, not even our reassurances that the “fire” had been put out. 

“You don’t believe me! But you will when you hear the fire trucks!” Julia yelled. 

“Hang on, I have an idea,” I said to our Tech. 

I pulled out my phone and searched quickly for some fire engine noises on YouTube. I turned the volume up and held it near Julia’s head. 

“Julia, you’re right!” I said. “Can you hear the firefighters? They are coming to help us!" 

"Ohhh,” she sighed, calming down. 

“Let’s go rest in here and let the firefighters do their job,” our Med Tech said.

We got her to relax and lay down for a nap.

Listening—and embracing her reality—gave Julia the comfort she needed to rest and calm down.

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Rachael Wonderlin has a Master’s in Gerontology and is the author of two published books with Johns Hopkins University Press. She owns Dementia By Day, a dementia care consulting company.

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