“He isn’t like these people.”

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“Look at everybody else here,” she protested. “He isn’t like these people! I saw this one lady yesterday, she couldn’t even talk! She just sat there. She couldn’t even use her fork right. And this other guy, he was like ‘eh, eh, eh,’” she said, making a terrible face and raising her arms up to her head in a mocking gesture.

I was getting angry. If there is one sentence I don’t like to hear at work, it’s this one: “She isn’t like those people.”

As calmly as I could, I leaned forward and looked her in the eye. “I think you need to lend some respect to ‘these people,’” I said. “This is their disease process, and this is how your loved one may very well progress in his disease,” I suggested. “And, maybe not. Maybe he won’t forget how to use a fork, or how to talk, before he passes away. But, either way, these people are still people.”

She sat there, pausing for a moment, as if to think.

“Yeah, but he just isn’t like these people,” she repeated. “There’s no one there he can talk to,” she continued, trying to convince me that everyone in our dementia care community was unable to communicate.

“That’s just not true,” I said. “He’s downstairs right now, sitting at a table with two other residents, having a conversation. That’s where I just came from.”

She paused again, crinkling her face in defeat. “Well…that’s good,” she sighed.

I realize that this woman was uncomfortable, and fearful, perhaps, for her loved one. But I do also want people to lend respect to other residents with dementia. Because, where there is that fear, there is misunderstanding.

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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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