Dec 2, 2014

Memory Care - Does a Little Reminder Really Help

It’s our job to understand where the person with dementia is coming from and keep the conversations positive, empathetic, and in-line with their realities.

By Rachael Wonderlin
Alzheimer's Reading Room

Forget Me Not Alzheimer's Reading Room

“She always remembers things once I give her a little reminder,” you’ll hear.

Caregivers sometimes make excuses when it comes to embracing “Alzheimer’s World.”

I love the phrase “Alzheimer’s World,” Bob DeMarco’s term for accepting the reality of those with dementia.

“Alzheimer’s World” just means that people with dementia often believe things that are not completely accurate or true in our world—but it’s our job to go with the flow.

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It’s our job to understand where the person with dementia is coming from and keep the conversations positive, empathetic, and in-line with their realities.
  • "She will remember it once I remind her."
  • "He's not always this confused, so it's okay if I tell him he lives here."
  • "But mom, don't you remember..."
  • "She knows she's 90 so she knows her parents are dead. It's okay if I tell her they're gone."
  • "I don't want to lie to him."
  • "Well if I tell her I'm her daughter and show her some photos, she'll remember."
  • "He deserves to know that his parents have been dead for years."
Do any of these phrases sound familiar to you?

You probably heard some of them, or maybe you even said one of them yourself.

All of these phrases are excuses. These are all reasons I heard from people who don’t want to embrace the reality of a person with dementia.

A couple of days ago I encountered a social worker talking to one of my residents.

"Do you know if my parents are alive?" Rebecca* asked her.

Please, please just tell her that you don't know, I thought to myself.

"Well, you are 90, right? So I think they've probably passed on," the social worker said.

Ugh, I groaned to myself. 

Seriously? You just informed this woman with dementia (who, by the way, talks about her parents in the present tense all of the time) that her parents are dead? Really?

I pulled the social worker aside after that and tried to explain why she should not have done that.

"Well, I've been in dementia care for a long time, and she seems like she's pretty 'with it' so I told her the truth," the social worker said.

I didn't even know what to say.

It doesn't matter how long you've been in memory care: if you can't apply the things you've learned, education doesn't count.

I have a Master's degree in Gerontology, but that wouldn't matter if I couldn't apply my skills in any situation. Also, just because the resident seems "with it,” you are not entitled to bring her into our reality.

How hard would it have been to just say, "I don't know" or redirect the conversation?

Instead, this social worker reminded my resident that she had dementia. She told Rebecca that she was 90 years old, that her parents were dead, and, in turn, probably confused her even more.

There are so many things people say so that they can avoid taking the high road in dementia care.

Caregivers come up with excuses so that they don't have to embrace the reality of the person with dementia.

Always, always embrace their reality.

Never, never add negativity to their lives, even if they bring up a sad or difficult conversation.

Always find a way to introduce something positive and helpful.

Always embrace his or her reality.

Rachael also writes on her own blog at Dementia By Day.

More Articles on Memory Care by Rachael Wonderlin

Don't Want to Lie to a Person Living with Dementia, Why Not Embrace Reality Instead

How to Become a Dementia Detective

What is Aphasia in Dementia?


What's the Difference Between Alzheimer's and Dementia

Test Your Memory for Alzheimer's and Dementia (5 Best Memory Tests)

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*Names have been changed.

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