5 Ways to Embrace the Reality of Someone with Dementia

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1. Recognize that the world you live in may not be the same world that your friend with dementia lives in. Your friend may think that it is 1960. If she thinks it’s 1960, it’s 1960. 

2. Agree—even when you know they’re wrong. “Today is the 4th of July,” your friend says on December 12th. “I love the 4th of July!” you may respond.

3. Yes, and. “Yes, and” is a principle that we use often in improv comedy, and it means what it sounds like: you agree with your scene partner, and then you add something to the scene. For example, a woman I used to take care of told me once that President Obama had been to her house. I agreed with excitement that this had indeed happened, and then I proceeded to ask her if they’d talked about politics. It ended up being a fantastic conversation, even if the actual event we were discussing hadn’t happened.

4. Answer their questions. Stop avoiding your friend’s questions about “where her mom is” with sayings like, “Wow, sounds like you miss your mom,” or, “Did she like cooking?” Answer the question. You can say something like, “I think she’s at work,” if your friend often thinks that her mother is at work. Using “I think” in front of your sentence gives you some wiggle room.

5. Adopt their environment. If your friend with dementia likes to take care of baby dolls, give her a baby doll to care for. If she always loved pets, give her a realistic-looking stuffed animal. Adopting her environment to fit her state of mind will always have a positive impact.

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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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