“But what if their reality doesn’t make any sense?”

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I’m asked questions like this often. “What if what they’re telling you…just doesn’t make any sense? It can’t happen. If I Embrace Their RealityTM, aren’t I lying…because what they’re saying will never happen?”

The short answer: no!

If you’re doing what’s true for them, you’re doing the right thing. Once you know where their reality is (either by asking questions to get you there, like, “Where do you think your mom is?” or by listening carefully to what they’re saying in that moment) then you’re ready to Embrace Their RealityTM.

“I need a cab!” Paul said, motioning to the phone.

Paul was one of my residents, and, at the time of this story (circa 2014, 2015) his delusion was brand new.

“Oh, where do you need to go?” I asked. “I’m sure we can get you a cab this afternoon.”

“I’m getting married soon,” he smiled. “I need flowers…a cake…invitations…all those things!”

I knew that this eighty-something-year-old man probably wasn’t getting married soon, but that didn’t matter. This was his world, and in his world, he was getting married.

I smiled. “That’s great! Who is the lucky lady?” I asked. He announced her name to me with a big grin on his face. “She’s the most beautiful woman in the world,” he said.

Suddenly, the concern over getting a cab was gone. Instead, he was focused on telling me about this woman he loved.

“Are you married?” he asked me. I laughed, “No, I’m not,” I said, recognizing where this was going. “How old are you!” he asked. “I’m 25.” His eyes widened. “…And you’re not married yet?!” he exclaimed. “You’d better get hitched soon! A man needs a wife, and a woman needs a husband. I don’t want to be alone anymore.”

Side note: I was only 25 at the time of this interaction and I didn’t get married until I was 31. It always made me laugh how quickly my residents became anxious about my marital status as a woman in my early 20s. If you’re interested in unsolicited relationship advice, hang out in senior living.

I could have done a lot of things here. I could have said, “No, I can’t call you a cab…you have to stay here!”

I could have said, “That doesn’t make sense, you aren’t getting married.”

Instead, I took interest in his story, and it made both of our days that much better.

I learned something about this man and was able to live in this beautiful reality that he had constructed. No, he didn’t end up getting married, but in the grand scheme of things the facts of that day didn’t really matter.

Now, what if the cab issue kept coming up? This is where you EMBRACE HIS REALITY and use my little trick of “Delay, delay, roadblock, delay.” Examples: “Paul, let’s get lunch here first, and then I’ll call the cab.” “Hey, the weather isn’t looking great, can we go tomorrow?” “The cab is always late. Let’s get something to eat while you’re waiting.” Telling him “there’s no cab” isn’t going to end well.

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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 two published books with Johns Hopkins University Press. Rachael owns Dementia By Day, a dementia care consulting and education company.

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