“If I keep reminding her, she’ll remember.”


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Mary Ellen’s daughter, Jenna, was frustrated. “Mom keeps thinking that dad is still alive,” she sighed. “I keep reminding her that he died years ago. I think that, eventually, if I keep reminding her, she’ll remember.”

I tried my best to explain to Mary Ellen’s daughter that this just wasn’t the case. It doesn’t matter how many times you “remind” someone with dementia—they will not remember.

Jenna wasn’t having any of that, though. She was intent on reminding her mother of her father’s death, and she would do whatever it took to make her understand. So, one day, Jenna planned an outing for her and her mom…an outing to the cemetery.

Jenna showed up to the cemetery with her mom in tow. “Mom, look, that’s dad’s gravestone,” she said. “See, he died in 2013.”

Mary Ellen was quiet for a moment. “Well, that doesn’t make any sense,” she said. “It’s 1994!”

Jenna was lucky that her mom didn’t understand. It could have gone much worse, had poor Mary Ellen realized that her husband’s gravestone was sitting at her feet.

People with dementia are impossible to argue with. They will out-logic you out of every single point that you make. This is a really hard thing for a lot of caregivers to understand: they desperately want their loved ones with dementia to understand and remember information, even if that information is painful.

I told Jenna what I tell every family member who tells me a story like this one: What’s the point of reminding her of something painful? If Mary Ellen’s world is a happier one, where her husband is still alive, why try to drag her into a painful world where he is dead?

I’ve also found that people with dementia do not tend to believe things that do not fit within their worldview, or things that they do not like to hear. For example, had Jenna suggested that her father was still alive and at the grocery store, Mary Ellen may have stopped asking where he was. I have seen this happen time and time again: a better answer—a happier answer—produces a much better result.

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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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