The dementia time machine


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She laughed. “Yes, my father and I were just talking about it the other night.”

Mimi was nearly 100 years old.
Her father had probably died 40 years ago, but she talked about him as if he was living nearby. 

“He was telling me about the chores we had to do, and we were both laughing. He doesn’t work us kids too hard, though,” she smiled. 

Talking to Mimi is so fascinating. For me, it’s about striking a balance between the past and the present. I never know for sure what world she’s going to be living in: is her father still alive, or has his passed away? Sometimes, Mimi talks about her family members as though they’ve passed. 

“My mother and father were very good parents,” she says at times. “My sister is still with me, which is good.” 

Her sister, in our world, is not alive. But I am glad, that in Mimi’s world, her sister is alive and well. 

In order for me to avoid contradicting her reality, I always speak to Mimi in the present tense, until I hear her switch to the past tense. I let her do the correcting, and it’s better when she corrects me than if I were to correct her.

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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 two published books with Johns Hopkins University Press. Rachael owns Dementia By Day, a dementia care consulting and education company.

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