“Can you take me home?”

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Verna stood in the hallway, clutching her purse tight to her chest. A blanket was draped over her arm. As soon as she spotted me approaching her, Verna turned. “I need to get home, my mom and dad are waiting for me to eat dinner. Can you take me home?” 

Verna was about 90, with bright blue eyes and a small stature. I smiled and immediately jumped into her world. “Sure, but we have a little while before dinner, can you stay here and hang out with me?” Verna smiled, and I knew that this was going to be even easier than I’d hoped. “We’re about the same age!” Verna exclaimed, looking me up and down. “Looks about that way!” I replied. 

Within a couple of minutes, Verna and I had returned to her room, put her heavy blanket back on the bed, and went outside for a walk. She was talkative, engaging, and had completely forgotten about her plan to go home.

Admittedly, this was a particularly easy “problem” to solve. Verna was focused on going home, but I was able to embrace her reality, tell her that I’d take her home later, and then got her focused on something else. Usually it isn’t this easy, but it all starts with one thing: the approach.

As soon as I spotted Verna in the hallway, I knew what was happening. I’d never met Verna before, and I didn’t even know her name. From looking at her, though, I could see that she had a plan to go home: she had her purse, a blanket, and was looking around anxiously. Immediately I put a smile on my face and walked up to her calmly, offering my hand. She took it.

The goal is always the same: whatever the situation, embrace that person’s reality and approach with a smile. It will take you pretty far.

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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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