In dementia world, you can live wherever you want

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Picture from Klavon’s in Pittsburgh, PA (2017)

I was busy setting up an old fashioned “ice cream parlor” look where the Nurses’ Station was at the dementia care community. The Nurses’ Station wasn’t going anywhere, of course, but it really did make the place look like a hospital. I didn’t want that. I wanted the residents with dementia to feel like that counter was a pleasant place, and a reminder that they lived in a location that would protect and care for them. So, I was turning it into a “5 & Dime” store, with the idea that this particular spot would be one of those old-timey ice cream  soda fountain areas.

One of the residents and her daughter sat nearby. The daughter smiled. “You know what’s funny,” she said to me as I hung up a “ICE CREAM FLAVORS” sign. “My dad used to live here, too,” she said. “And when he did, he really did think that this counter sold ice cream floats,” the daughter laughed. “So this is pretty cool.”

I loved that story. This made me feel even better about recreating this counter space into something that the residents would recognize. 

It also reminded me that, in dementia world, you can live wherever you want to live. I have had a few residents who told me that we “were sailing on a cruise ship” when we were really just walking down the hallway of a care community. It makes sense, though: long hallways may remind them of a cruise ship, and some people with dementia get dizzy walking around or standing up too quickly. 

Wouldn’t you rather believe that you’re taking a vacation than living in a dementia care community? 

In that way, embracing someone’s reality and making their environment match that reality…is really priceless.

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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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