Someone with Dementia commonly experiences memory loss. Usually the person’s short-term memories are affected first; they’re forgotten or confused with other memories. While their memories from long ago still remain. This might cause the distant past to make more sense to an individual with dementia than the present. It is this distant past that usually seems to cause the person to live in an alternate reality within their minds. Their alternate reality can be their method of making sense of the present through past memories and recollections.
People with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia often have problems expressing themselves. When you as caregiver become aware that they are experiencing an alternate reality, ask yourself if that particular reality which they are experiencing has any correlation with how they feel, what they need or what they’re trying to express.
An example is one of our residents continually experience an alternate reality in which she is still a little child with her mother and father looking after her. This memory and reality that she experiences is like a roller coaster ride, in that she has no or little control. This reality could be a strong indication that what she is attempting to communicate is that she doesn’t feel safe. She wants to feel protected, embraced and comforted. She may even be cold and may want warmth. Dementia is a mental disease that breaks apart the communication between patient and caregiver. As a caregiver, you need to constantly ask why and climb into the patient’s reality so you can help them, and better understand them.
Is It Alright to Play Along?
We have written about this before and so won’t go into this in too much detail. You can read our post about Lying To Someone With Dementia For The Right Reasons here. Here is an extract from the post:
“As soon as we force our ‘truth’, ‘reality’ or opinion onto her, we are contradicting her ‘truth’, ‘reality’ or opinion. If a resident wanders aimlessly with his ‘truth’ being that he is searching for his home. By telling him that he doesn’t have a home, or that he is home or that he cannot go home, you are contradicting his ‘reality,’ and are likely to generate aggression, irritation and/or hostility. Instead, you should concur with his ‘reality’ by helping him to a destination. As soon as he knows he is on his way to a destination, his anxiety will lessen or vanish. You do not contradict him by commenting on the validity of his ‘truth,’ instead you aim to distract him by looking at the birds, talking about his life and that which is relevant to him in that moment.”
At the end of the day, patience and compassion is what it boils down to. Without these priceless jewels, true caring is impossible.