Dementia gives us gifts, let’s not reject them

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It had been six months since I’d seen Dot, my favorite resident. Dot was what I like to call “pleasantly confused.” She was in her mid-90s, had Alzheimer’s, and just enjoyed everything.

One thing that I remember about Dot was that she missed her husband a lot. They had been married for decades, and his passing was probably the worst moment of her whole life. Dot would often say to me, “I miss my husband. He was such a good man.” We’d talk about their trips together: the time he was asked to go on a business trip to Italy, but he said he’d only go “if he could take his wife!” Dot went along, and the two of them had a wonderful time.

I don’t think more than a couple days passed without Dot mentioning how much she missed her husband. She’d always say it with a wistful little smile, like she was remembering the good times. Still, it made me sad.

Six months went by after I moved up to Pittsburgh, PA. When I went back to Greensboro, NC to visit my friends down there, I stopped by the place I used to work to visit Dot.

She recognized me immediately. Interestingly, Dot (and every other resident I’ve ever worked with) never knew my name. She knew me, though, all the same. I was the blonde lady who brought her the newspaper and took her on outings.

Dot had tears of happiness in her eyes as she introduced me to her fellow residents. “This is my old friend!” she told them.

We got to talking, and she told me about how she worked during the day, but stopped here for lunch. I knew immediately her “timeline” had changed since the last time I’d seen her.

“And my husband!” she said, suddenly. “He’s on a business trip right now, but he’s getting back tonight. Oh, I can’t wait to see him!” she smiled.

I was surprised to hear this news, but I smiled, too. He’s back, I thought.

“That’s great, Dot!” I said. “Do you think y’all will go out for dinner?”

We had a great conversation about her husband that afternoon—because he was back in her life. He was alive again.

Dementia gives people gifts, sometimes. It brings back happy memories and it brings people who have left back to us. Never reject that gift.

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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 three published books with Johns Hopkins University Press. Rachael owns Dementia By Day, a dementia care consulting and education company.

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