Apr 20, 2017

Mirror’s Illusionary Effects in Dementia

One’s mirror image can be very disturbing to someone with dementia

Seeing one’s image reflected in the mirror can elicit many and varied responses.

“Why aren’t you catching the ball?”

Seeing one’s image reflected in the mirror can elicit many and varied responses.

The baby regards his/her face with a smile about age two. A teenager uses it applying makeup like paint on a canvas.

The post fifty-year-old group is disheartened by the reflection of an aging face with wrinkles, grey hair and age spots.

By Elaine C Pereira
Alzheimer's Reading Room

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But for the individual living with Alzheimer’s, what do they see? Their interpretation of finding themselves in the mirror can run the gamut. Indifferent disregard - not processing the image as their own - to confusion, stress reactions, and more can occur.

I don’t recall my mother ever commenting or behaving remarkably upon seeing her reflection in the mirror. I suspect she didn’t process the image as her own or anyone specific actually. However she interpreted the vision of the woman in the mirror, it was not a stressor among many stimuli that did send her into a rage or emotional shut down.

Catch the ball Frank!

Consider this true story shared with me by a wonderful family caregiver, Kathy.

Kathy’s father-in-law stayed with her and her husband for quite a while as he (we’ll call him Bill) exhibited debilitating dementia and was no longer safe alone at home. Kathy recalls on more than one occasion that Bill perceived his own image reflected back in the mirror as that of his friend of many, many years Frank.

Usually the sight of Frank triggered a few experiences from their past.

“We played pick-up ball all the time.” Bill said along with other nostalgic remarks about Frank.

But on more than one occasion, Bill evidently perceived Frank as if “he” was real and in the present. On one day in particular, Bill suddenly started tossing corks and other small objects for Frank to catch! But, of course they hit the glass and careened to the floor.

“Frank, catch the ball!” Bill pleaded. “Why aren’t you catching the ball?”

Upon witnessing Bill’s behavior, Kathy offered reassuring remarks. Fortunately, Bill never appeared agitated by Frank’s image, but bewildered by what he perceived as Frank’s disinterest.

How to Get Answers To Your Questions About Alzheimer's and Dementia

Be Cautious

One’s mirror image however can be very disturbing to someone with dementia. It can be interpreted as their own, that of another person with only benign reactions, disregarded completely but also very upsetting. Adverse reactions might occur if the individual “interprets” the image as a stranger or a face from the past that was unsettling or confusing.

If your loved one is disturbed by mirrors a simple solution is to just remove or cover them!

Trying to calm someone living with Alzheimer’s through rationalization is futile. Remove the stressors when possible.

From The Music of Life by Uvi Poznansky:
This is not the first time she (Natasha) notes her reflection as if it were another woman… To remind her of my presence I murmur, “I’ll take care of you, Natasha. You can rely upon me, always.” 
And when she says nothing I add, ”You look so lovely, dear.” 
“And so does she,” says Natasha, pointing at the glass. “So pretty, isn’t she?”

Or just move the mirror!

A Daughter's Story of Her Mother's Arduous and Humorous Journey through Dementia

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Elaine C Pereira donates from every copy of I Will Never Forget to help support Alzheimer’s research. "Help Me Help Others" Buy a Book!

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