Why we shouldn’t “reorient” people with dementia


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Today’s topic is all about not reorienting people with dementia.

For years and years, what we actually taught nurses to do, was to reorient people, meaning we would correct them and we’d go, no, that’s not true. Whatever you’re saying isn’t true, come over to our reality. I was recently at a client’s house and I wasn’t really sure where she was at in her dementia, because I was just seeing her for the first time. And I saw some birthday cards on her mantle. So I said, oh, you know I see it’s going to be your birthday. When’s your birthday? And she said, tomorrow. And she was right. People with dementia generally know when their birthday is, but I said, how old are you going be?

And she thought about it. This woman is 94 years old, and she said, I’m going to be 53. And I was like, oh, okay. So we went along with that. Most people when they’re talking to somebody with dementia would then say, well you can’t be 54 because it’s 2018 and your birthday is this date. So let’s do the math. We don’t want to do that. We don’t want to make somebody do the math. There’s no point in making this woman do the math. Let her be 54. It’s probably way easier to be 54 than it is to be 94. I’ve been neither. So I assume though, that it’s easier to be 54.

So we don’t want to reorient people with dementia. There’s no point. It’s kind of cruel. And really it’s just like banging our heads against the wall. We’re not getting anywhere. It’s gonna be painful for everybody. Just let me be, let me be 54 or whatever.

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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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