A Case of Mistaken Identity

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“Susan! Susan, can you help me?” Virginia cried, following me down the hallway. 

Obviously, my name is not Susan. Virginia began calling me “Susan” early on into knowing her, and it just stuck. I turned, swiftly, and smiled. “What can I help you with, Virginia?”

“Susan, I don’t want to get married!” she exclaimed.

I was surprised, but this was a story I could definitely roll with. “Don’t worry, Virginia, you don’t have to get married!” I replied.

“Are you sure? Who are they even trying to make me marry?” she asked.

“I don’t know, but I’m going to go to that wedding, and I’m going to mess everything up! I’m going to walk up to the alter and save you from getting married. I won’t let it happen!” I declared.

“Oh, thank you, thank you, I feel so much better,” Virginia sighed.

While going through my older blog posts, we found this awesome story from 2014. I remember this resident very well: Virginia was in her early 70s and had been diagnosed with early-onset dementia a few years prior. She moved into our dementia care community and quickly became one of my favorite residents.

Virginia was very intelligent and, thankfully, at the point in her dementia where she’d forgotten she had dementia. This was a good thing, because I’m quite certain it would’ve upset her greatly to recognize her deficits. Virginia had a Master’s in Education and had been a much-loved teacher for many years. She attached herself to me quickly and began calling me “Susan” almost immediately, despite my name tag. (I actually began covering my name tag when talking to her so she wouldn’t be confused.)

I have no idea who Susan is, but I knew she was someone important to Virginia. There’s a lot of mistaken identity that occurs in dementia care communities. We had a resident at the same building who was convinced that one of our employees was her landlord. Another resident, Sarah, consistently called another resident by the wrong name. Even when the other resident corrected her, Sarah kept it up.

Sometimes it’s really convenient when a person living with dementia thinks that you’re someone else. Maybe “Susan” could help Virginia through any problem. Maybe Susan was a great friend to talk to.

In this case, I found that I was pretty happy to be Susan. And who knows why she’s decided that I’m Susan? Maybe we both have the same color hair, or maybe we laugh the same way.

Let her think that you’re Susan. More than anything, she just wants someone kind to listen to her.

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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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