Learning to Live in Your Loved One's Reality

Jacqueline Marcell Health Guide
  • When I took care of my parents (both with dementia), I noticed that each thought the other was the only one not thinking clearly. When Mom said something off-the-wall, Dad would look at me so sorrowfully and we’d nod, sharing the sad fact that Mom was a "little off." Then when Dad would say something illogical and irrational and Mom was clear, she’d whisper to me, "Ohh, poor Daddy, he’s getting old and really starting to lose it."

    But then one day when the shuttle brought my parents home from their Adult Day Care center, Mom said proudly, "Guess what? Dad got a part-time job today!"

    "He did? That’s wonderful Dad–what are you doing?"
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    "Well… I’m taking care of Clark Gable’s horses," he said, grinning from ear to ear.

    Mom nodded, "Yes, honey, so we have to go shopping for hay tomorrow!"

    I couldn’t believe it–they were both in the same demented episode at the same time! My initial instinct was to correct the facts, saying that those horses were long past gone and so was Clark, but instead I realized it was so much kinder to validate what they believed to be true and to just go along and live in their reality of the moment.

    "Wow, what an honor, Dad–I am so proud of you", I said, as I kissed him and he beamed.

    Fortunately, by the next day they had forgotten all about Clark, his horses and hay–but I can’t tell you how much enjoyment they got from believing it was true the day before. I was so glad I had curbed my desire to be accurate and that I didn’t spoil a wonderful harmless fantasy for them.

    I always encouraged my parents to talk about the old days and reminisce, as they loved to tell their stories–most of which I had heard many-many times before. And even though some of the facts were now a bit distorted, it did them a world of good to go back and relive the highlights of their lives. I’d prompt them with questions like, "Where were you the day Pearl Harbor was attacked?" …and… "How did you propose to Mom?" …and… "What was it like the day I was born?" …and… "What do you know about your mother’s mother and father?"

    If you are lucky enough to have your loved ones reach old age–enjoy them now, honor them now (even the challenging ones) and be sure to record their stories to pass down to generations to come. And when you resolve to consistently and calmly practice these behavioral techniques, when your caregiving journey is finally over–you’ll be proud of how you managed your turn.

    How do you cope with the evolving "reality" of your loved one? Tell us in the message boards.

    You can learn more about Jacqueline and find information about her book at ElderRage.com.
Published On: May 22, 2006