You are here because you have memory problems, remember?

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The pair stood in the hallway, both with their hands on their hips.

“Mom,” Andrea sighed, exhausted. “You’re here because you have memory problems, remember?” she asked.

Well, that’s kind of a paradox, I thought.

“My memory is just fine!” Elena yelled back. “I don’t have any trouble with my memory!”

Of course Elena does not realize she has memory problems—she can’t remember long enough to realize there’s an issue! 

I have heard this type of argument again, and again, and again. So many caregivers desperately want their loved ones with dementia to understand…and they can’t. There is no use in trying to convince someone with dementia of the facts.

My best advice in this kind of situation—the situation a loved one keeps asking “why am I here?” or “why can’t I go home?”—is to answer the question in a way that makes sense. You could say, “We’ll go home later,” or, “You’re here because the nurses and doctors can see you,” or, “You’re here because of that brace on your arm, and when that heals, we can talk about you going back home.”

You don’t need to make someone with dementia understand. Instead, it is best if you help them feel better about their current situation.

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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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