Sep 4, 2014

How Reorienting a Dementia Patient Can Be Cruel

If there is one word in memory care that I absolutely hate, it’s “reorient.” Fortunately, I don’t hear it often.

By Rachael Wonderlin
Alzheimer's Reading Room

 How Reorienting a Dementia Patient Can Be Cruel | Alzheimer's Reading Room

For years, researchers and people at the forefront of memory care encouraged us to “reorient” people with dementia.

They encouraged us to correct our loved ones and “remind” them that they were confused.

I’m thankful that this view of dementia care has changed, and that the general population is beginning to catch up.

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Still, every so often, I’ll hear that word. Someone will suggest that a resident needs to be oriented to place and time, or, in other words, reminded of their dementia.

Never try to reorient a person with dementia.  In order to illustrate this concept, picture this: you are eighty-five years old and you are convinced that your dad has just died. You’re upset but hopeful that you’ll be able to pay your respects at his funeral.

A family member comes up to you. “Honey, your dad died forty years ago. You’re eighty-five years old, remember? It’s 2014. There’s no way that your dad could be alive this long.”

This is new information for you. Not only is it new information, but it is even more devastating than if you still believed his funeral was today.

Now you’re wondering where the years have gone. You’re wondering why you’re so confused. “…Forty years ago?” you ask, slowly, trying to process this new information. These are feelings that can be be disorienting and disconcerting to a person living with dementia.

This is the idea of reorienting: try to help your loved one remember and process.

It sounds nice if you don’t think about what you’re actually doing to your loved one’s psyche. In fact, it makes sense why researchers and scientists believed that we should try to “help” people with dementia this way. It sounds only natural to try and help people remember facts about their lives. In practice, however, it just doesn't work.

In fact, I’d even go so far as to say that it’s kind of cruel to reorient.

As we know with dementia, reminders don’t work. The best way to help your loved one is to avoid the temptation to reorient to place and time.

So what if your mom thinks it’s 1960? Perhaps 1960 was a really wonderful year for her.

Let her have that year, even if it’s not accurate.

Rachael Wonderlin has a Master’s of Science in Gerontology from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She works as a Memory Care Program Coordinator and Manager. Rachael also writes on her own blog at Dementia By Day.

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