The Artist

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Despite my experience working in dementia care, I still make mistakes sometimes. I have learned from them, though, and I tend not to make them again. 

I once asked a woman what she “used to do” for a living. She turned to me, confused. “Well, I’m still a nurse!” she exclaimed, surprised that I would insinuate that she was no longer working. Of course, this woman with dementia, in her 90s, was no longer working as a nurse—but I had confused my reality with her reality.

“Of course,” I said, quickly recovering. “That’s what I meant.”

I don’t make that mistake anymore. Instead, I let them tell me that they are no longer working.

“What do you do for a living?” you may ask. “Oh, I’m not working anymore, I’m 85!” some people with dementia will, correctly, tell you.

The painting below was done by a resident of mine, Ella. Ella has been an artist her whole life. She went to school for art, she worked as a painter, and it clearly shows.

“What do you want me to paint?” she asked me yesterday.

“How about a tree, since it’s fall?” I smiled back.

“Sure,” she shrugged, and I walked away, letting the activity director continue supervising the painting activity.

I came back an hour later to find this sitting on the table.

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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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I wrote this poem years ago, but to date, it’s the most popular piece I’ve ever created.

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