Thank you to Leah Oien for putting together this heartfelt post. Leah was a full-time intern at River Pointe during the Spring, and was kind enough to put together some examples of how we can all have more positive interactions with those facing memory loss…
How do you approach someone who has Alzheimer’s disease? Do you get frustrated? Do you start dreading having to deal with it? Having these feelings is common, because dementia is not an easy disease to interact with. Whether you are a caregiver, family, friend, or staff member who has dealt with dementia, it is likely you have experienced this.
You have to remember that they do not want to be difficult; it was not their choice to end up with this disease. It’s the disease that’s being difficult; they are the ones who are just reacting to it. Those people are having a hard day too, it’s just not as clear-cut as the one you may be having.
Each Alzheimer’s patient is different, but there are ways to help them and yourself. Here are two different stories of how different interactions with the person can add a little more happiness to both of your days.
An Alzheimer’s resident ventures outside and is found picking weeds (she sees them as beautiful), and wants to bring them back to her room to plant, but will only place them somewhere and forget them.
- A staff member finds her, and says “No! You cannot bring those in! Those are weeds and they belong in the garbage.” The resident replies “Those are mine, I want to plant them!” The staff member takes away her plants and throws them in the trash. The resident remains there not understanding what she did wrong and begins crying.
- The next day, the resident is found outside picking her plants again. A new staff member approaches her and states “My, aren’t those beautiful plants, will you replant them?” The resident smiles kindly at her and replies “Yes I will! I’m going to start a garden to feed my family.” The staff member smiles in return and says “It’s about time for dinner, would you like me to take your plants and place them in a cup of water until you are finished?” The resident hugs her and says “Yes, thank you so much!” The resident is happily escorted to dinner, and the staff member places the weeds in the garbage.
A dementia patient is in her home staring out her kitchen window into the slough near the barn. The patient says to her granddaughter “Look, there are two men in the slough.”
- The granddaughter looks out the window “No, there isn’t grandma! Can’t you see? There are no men out there, so stop being weird.” The patient looks at her angrily “Don’t treat me like I’m crazy, those men are always there!” The patient stayed angry and upset for hours later staring at the window trying to prove that there were men.
- The next day the patient is looking out the window and says to her friend “Those men are back in the slough again.” The friend looks out the window seeing no men and says “There are two men out there alright.” The patient replies “Yep, there is.” The friend replies “What do you think they’re doing out there?” The patient looks at her and chuckles “I think they think this is a resort, we better go put up a sign so they know better. They’re going to be awfully smelly staying down there.” And with that, the resident went to go sit down and relax.
Each person is different; some require their situations to be handled differently. But being observant to their needs and trying different approaches to interacting with them may just make their day better.
A few tips are:
- Don’t argue with them. To most of them, what they are saying is their reality. It may not be ours, but they’re living in it. So take that step into their reality, and become equals to them and try to see it from their point of view.
- When it’s too much, walk away and try reproaching later.
- White lies are not a bad thing; to agree with what they’re saying (even if it’s not true) can be therapeutic.
They may not remember yesterday, they may not remember tomorrow, but today is all they have. Putting love into today can mean the world to them, even if they won’t remember it tomorrow. It may get frustrating. It may be tough. But with love and compassion, you can make today one that fills their hearts with joy.
River Pointe is here for you if you have a loved one experiencing these symptoms, or if you have a unique talent interacting with those facing memory loss. We’d love to hear from you! 218-287-6900
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