Why reminder notes won’t help

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I had been helping a family move their father into our Memory Care. The family had brought a ton of items with them from their dad’s old apartment: chairs, a table, a dresser, miscellaneous decor, and more. 

I reached into the truck bed and pulled out a big wall mirror. As I turned it over in my hands, I spotted a note taped to the top.

“YOU HAVE TROUBLE WITH YOUR MEMORY RIGHT NOW,” the note read.

“Nope,” I said, pulling the note off the mirror.

“Oh, that’s the note the therapist suggested we put on there,” his son said. “It’s to remind dad why he’s going to be living in Memory Care.”

The family had good intentions. The speech therapist had good intentions. Sometimes, though, I end up disagreeing with the philosophies that other professions offer regarding dementia care. In certain therapy situations, the goal of the therapist is to “help” the person with dementia by reminding them of things or trying to reorient them. 

I’ve met a lot of great occupational, speech, and physical therapists who don’t do this. But, I think it’s about changing the school of thought. Trying to “remind” someone with dementia that their memory is poor is useless and just plain mean. When the type of dementia that a person has is terminal, their cognitive skills are only going to get worse. 

Every single time that this man’s father looked in the mirror, he’d read that note. He’d become upset again. He’d realize that his memory wasn’t what it used to be. 

“There’s no point in reminding him,” I told his son. “Let’s let your dad enjoy his life and not worry about the things he can’t change.” 

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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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