“He was at my house.”

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If you’ve ever come to one of my talks, you’ve probably heard this story. It’s one of my favorites to tell, because I think it really sums up positive dementia care.

Ann greeted me at the door with a big smile on her face. “Guess who was here today!” she exclaimed as I walked in.

“I don’t know, who was here?” I asked.

Ann pointed to the TV, where President Obama was speaking. “President Obama was here!” she grinned.

“Oh, wow, that is pretty cool,” I smiled back, putting my bag down and sitting on her couch. 

Of course, I knew the “truth” was that Obama hadn’t been at Ann’s house that morning. Or, probably, any morning, for that matter. However, Ann’s brain was working in an interesting fashion: it was piecing things together that didn’t make sense.

For example, Ann had a lot of people coming over to take care of her. These people were caregivers, physical and occupational therapists, and sometimes her family members, as well. Ann watched TV often, and saw President Obama on TV. Her brain, working in dementia world, took these two things and put them together. It probably went something like this: “People are at my house a lot. I see this man on TV a lot. Therefore, this man was at my house.”

People with dementia are very pattern-seeking. They often try to make sense of things that don’t make sense, and they’ll create stories to go with their new realities. 

Ann smiled back at me. “He wasn’t President when he was here, though.”

“Well that’s interesting,” I said. “What was he here for?”

“He wanted to sell me a vacuum,” Ann nodded. “But I told him I already had a vacuum, so we had some tea and talked.”

I didn’t argue with Ann. I didn’t tell her that none of her story made any sense. I just enjoyed her story, agreed, and asked for more fun details about her day. 

“He has very nice hands,” Ann smiled.

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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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