5 steps to get you into the world of someone living with dementia


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I had someone tell me recently that they’d used my Embracing Their Reality techniques when talking to their mother with dementia. “I told her that we were going to see her parents, and she looked confused. She was talking about her parents the week before, so I just started the conversation about seeing them! Embracing her reality didn’t work,” he saidHere’s the problem: he didn’t embrace her reality. All he did was assume that, because she’d talked about her parents the week before, she’d be in the same reality the next week.

Use these 5 “L” steps to embrace someone’s reality effectively:

1. Listen

Don’t assume that you know where your loved one’s reality is that day. You have to listen before you make a big statement that you think reflects their reality. Listen to their context clues: for example, if she’s talking about her parents as if they are still alive, that’s what she believes that day. We can’t hang onto where she was the week or even day before. It just may not be accurate anymore.

2. Legitimize

Legitimize whatever they say to you. If they tell you that their neighbors stole their garden gnome, agree that their gnome seems to be missing, and you’re going to “get to the bottom of it” by talking to the neighbors. You don’t have to 100% jump to conclusions with them, but you do need to listen and legitimize whatever they say.

3. Lean

Lean into what they’re saying so that you can embrace their reality effectively. For example, if today she’s speaking about going to her mom’s house, she probably thinks her mom is alive. Lean into that with a small statement or question, something like, “What were you thinking about doing at your mom’s house today?” This gives her the feeling that you’re listening and agreeing, but it also gives you a bit of leeway: if she was just speaking generally about how she used to go over there, you don’t look totally crazy by talking about someone she knows has died. If she’s talking about her parents and asking you a question like, “Where are they right now?” You can say, “Where do you think they are?”

4. Leap

You’ll know from step 3, Lean, exactly where her reality is. Now, Leap into that reality with her, wherever it is! Talk about what she’s talking about. Don’t try to bring her back to our world. If she’s talking about going to work, talk about that work with her. Ask what projects she’s working on there currently, how her boss has been, and if her coworkers are fun to be around.

5. Learn

Learn from your successes and mistakes when embracing the reality of someone living with dementia. Recognize that while their reality may evolve and change, you’re going to be just fine when you take a moment to figure out where their reality is that day.

Learn more about what I do here.

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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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