Dementia care is like tee ball

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Stay with me here. I’m totally serious. Dementia care is like tee ball: you know, that game that young kids play where they hit a baseball off of a tee instead of swinging at it in the air. It ends up being enjoyable for everyone, but it’s just been modified so that the kids can play with ease.

A man recently asked me about his wife with dementia. “She wants to help with chores,” he sighed. “But, really, I just end up doing more work because she does the chores the wrong way. What can I do? I feel badly when I ask her not to help me!”

This is a really common problem. Here’s what I suggested to him:

“We need to find a way to set her up for success. This means that, on the back end, you’re going to be doing a little bit more work. For example, if you’re doing laundry, set out the towels that you want her to fold. You can go about taking clothes out of the washer and dryer, which is a bigger task than she’s able to do, but she still feels successful—and, she’s busy while you’re doing your work.” 

What we want to do is set our loved ones with dementia up for success. You’re getting the tee out, you’re putting the ball on the tee, and then you’re letting them hit the home-run. In the end, we all end up feeling good about the outcome.

Bear in mind that I never compare people with dementia to children, and that is not what I’m doing in this example, either. Rather, I want to stress that what we’re trying to do is make everyone feel important, useful, and necessary—in the simplest, kindest way possible. 

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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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