Apr 18, 2016

When Alzheimer's Patients Friend Themselves

Question: My wife was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease and her memory continues to get worse. In the past couple of months she has a “new friend”, actually her reflection in the mirror, car windows, and even shiny surfaces.

Sometimes dementia patients friend themselves in the mirror.
I cannot get her to leave her “friend” anytime she encounters her own reflection, and her unwillingness to leave her friend has caused some difficult scenes. Any advice on how to handle this?

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Rita Jablonski-Jaudon, PhD, CRNP, FAAN is an internationally recognized researcher and expert on non-drug ways to handle dementia-related behaviors. She is an Associate Professor at the School of Nursing at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and a nurse practitioner in The Memory Disorders Clinic at the Kirklin Clinic, UABMC, Birmingham, Alabama. She can be reached at rjablonski@uabmc.edu

Dr. Jablonski-Jaudon's Answer

Many people with AD still have very intact social skills. Your wife does not want to be rude and abandon her friend—even though you know it is her own reflection. By playing along and being a good host, you are responding to your wife’s concern about being rude or violating social etiquette.

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Here is a suggested script: Talk to the reflection and say, “My wife and I are going over there (point to the restaurant) to eat. OK, so you are going to head over to that store (point to the opposite direction) and you will meet us here when we are all done. Thanks, have fun, we will meet you later.”

Turn to your wife and say, “She said she will be fine, she wants to go do [fill in blank] by herself and will meet us back here later.”

Then you gently take your wife’s hand in yours and walk over to the restaurant. Change topics by saying something like, “I’m really hungry and thinking about having a burger. How about you?”

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You may feel very silly doing this, but you are being an understanding caregiver. 

This is about you and your wife navigating Dementia Land in a way that makes sense to her.

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