The Key to Personal Preferences

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See a theme this month? We’re reminiscing! This story was originally written in 2015, redrafted for May 2021.

It is so important for people living with dementia to continue doing and enjoying the things that they love.

One of our residents, Shelly, spends nearly all of her time in her room. She does not want to come out and be with other residents. She doesn’t want to come out for meals. In fact, Shelly has a small table set up in her room where she can eat her meals alone—not something we typically provide in dementia care environments. We keep her door open to keep an eye on her eating, but it’s become clear that, when around others, she won’t eat.

She speaks, but it is mostly in small, repetitive sentences. “Momma, momma, momma, momma,” she’ll cry out while lying in bed. 

When you speak to Shelly, she may utter a few phrases. Perhaps you’ll get a one-word answer.

It is tough to get her out of bed, even when it’s time for her to eat at her little table. Shelly has a lot of anxiety, so it is easier to let her eat alone in her room—because, again, it is all about preferences.

The one thing that Shelly will always get out of bed for is coffee.

During a fire drill the other day, I knew we had to get Shelly out of bed. I ran into our kitchen and filled up a cup with some coffee while an aide prepared Shelly’s wheelchair. “Shelly, I brought you some coffee,” I said, “I’ll hand it to you once you get in your wheelchair.”

Her eyes grew wide. “Coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee!” she repeated excitedly, jumping out of bed quicker than I had seen her move before. “Coffee! Coffee!” she cried as I handed her the cup. 

“Mmmmmmm,” she smiled peacefully as we pushed her wheelchair down the hallway.

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1 thought on “The Key to Personal Preferences”

  1. This is a beautiful story.
    At our small home (beehive assisted living Louisville Ky.)
    We try to customize preferences for each person that lives with us.
    I am going to share this.
    Thank you!

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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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