Caregivers of loved ones living with dementia may find this example familiar and relatable: “She is insisting that she is hungry all the time even on occasions when she had just finished the last of her three square meals for the day. Try as you may to explain to her that she can’t possibly be hungry, she seems incapable of grasping that reality, to the point that you may even question yourself for trying to determine her personal feelings. “Who am I to say that she can’t be hungry despite having just eaten?” you may say to yourself.
What you may have failed to see is that your loved one with dementia has forgotten that she has eaten, and no matter how hard you try to reason with her or end up making things ugly, that is and remains her reality. “Typical signs [of dementia] are extreme forgetfulness, not just forgetting the keys here and there. Rather, forgetting where one is, whether or not one just ate, forgetting to put shoes on before going outside, and that sort of thing,” says Ross Andel, PhD, associate professor at the School of Aging Studies at the University of South Florida in Tampa.
Because the person’s memory and ways of seeing things have been altered by dementia, they may sometimes say things or behave in a way that suggests that they have a different sense of reality from our own. Memories of recent events tent to be the first to be damaged, while those from the past remain intact longer. That’s why they may talk fondly about a deceased loved one but forget about having dinner 15 minutes ago.
Back To Reality
It’s not easy to be in the shoes of a person with dementia. Imagine routinely going home and preparing dinner for your family in your younger days, only to wake up one day and realising that this sense of duty and purpose seems to have become a distant memory. The sheer anxiety and frustration at something “missing” can also cause you to feel lost and powerless. The first thing to realise is that when dealing with someone with dementia, what they need is for you to embrace their reality, rather than having you try to force yours on them. When they say things like “I’m starving”, accept how they feel and gently redirect them with responses like “okay, we can go and eat 10 minutes time”. Not only does it prevent more gnashing of teeth, it also makes the person feel respected and understood.
Letting Sleeping Dogs Lie
Call it therapeutic lying, white lies, or empathy – whatever you choose to term it, it is a strategy that is beneficial to both caregiver and person with dementia. Ever heard your loved one with dementia ask to see his deceased mother? Telling him flat out that she has passed on would only add to their pain. Instead, apply therapeutic lying with something simple like “she is busy and unavailable right now” or redirecting her to tell you more about the person can significantly reduce stress for both of you. Practising redirection and telling ‘white lies’ also enables them to take their minds and concerns away from loved ones who are no longer around and in turn enjoy the present with you. The moment you smile, be patient, and not judge, life will start to improve.