The Tour

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We give tours to prospective residents and their family members all the time. I don’t think I realized until recently, however, how challenging it is. I am so wrapped up in all of the strides we’ve made in our community, and how great the hallways look, and how engaged the residents are, that I forget how upsetting it can be for family members whose loved ones have dementia. They are coming in and seeing a dementia community for the first time.

Sometimes people on the tour will start crying. Other times they get frustrated or angry. I try to brace myself for this. I try to explain to family members why we have the baby dolls, the artificial pets, why some residents aren’t as “high-functioning” as others.

I rejoice when the family members on the tour see the positive things. “Wow, you guys do a lot of art projects here, that’s so great!” someone will say. I revel in these moments.

I imagine it must be hard, especially when some of these people are seeing things they weren’t prepared for. This tends to happen especially when they see a resident holding a baby doll. It must be weird, seeing an 85-year-old with a doll, singing it to sleep.

I try to remind myself of these things, I try to put myself in these family members’ shoes. I try to be comforting for these tours, but I never know quite what to do. Should I give the person a hug? Do I just stand there, trying to be comforting?

I find it difficult because I am so much a part of this world, this dementia world, that I am able to find beauty and happiness in things that probably seem odd or sad. I cling to those moments, those moments when I see a resident talking happily to a baby doll, because that is what makes dementia not-so-terrible.

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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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