Where's my wife?

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Arnold was very easy to talk to. He was friendly, had a good sense of humor, and liked to sing along with the music coming over the radio. Arnold, overall, was pretty “with it” for someone with moderate Alzheimer’s.

That’s why I was surprised when he wheeled past me and asked, “Have you seen my wife?” 

I knew that his wife had passed away years before. 

“I don’t know,” I responded. “What is your wife’s name?”

“Marie,” he answered, smiling. “She was here just a minute ago, but she went to the restroom and I haven’t seen her since! We have to get ready to leave soon.”

“I’ll let you know when I see her,” I responded.

I was careful to say “when” rather than “if.” I knew that I would not be seeing Marie, but that didn’t matter.

What mattered was that Arnold had someone on his side; he had someone in his corner: I was also looking for his wife. He wasn’t alone in searching for her. 

Dementia is an interesting group of diseases. Just when you think you know someone’s cognitive status, they change it up on you. Arnold was very capable of picking out his clothes, brushing his teeth, playing cards, and holding a terrific conversation, but had trouble with his concept of time.

Instead of telling Arnold that his wife wouldn’t be back, and that he wouldn’t be seeing her, I embraced his reality. Life is a lot easier for you—and your friend with dementia—when you embrace their reality.

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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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