Friday, October 29, 2010

Meet the Person Where They Are - Or Not

I have read a lot about Alzheimer’s and one of the main suggestions the professionals give you about caring for someone with dementia is that you should meet the person where they are. They say not to argue with a person with Alzheimer’s when they insist that it is 1950 and they are in high school. Don’t try to convince them that they are in a nursing home when the person really thinks they are working back in their profession from twenty years ago.

Before I lived with my Mom, and even when I worked as a chaplain a few years ago, this made sense. However, this advice does not always make sense when you are actually living with a person with dementia.

Mom is not to the point where she thinks she is a teenager again or does not understand where she is, who she is, or who we are. She does have increasing confusion though and I notice that when we are struggling with Mom, often the professional advice would be to meet her where she is, go with what she thinks is going on. But that does not always work.

For instance, for the past two days, Mom has been worried about the time and day of her next haircut. She saw the appointment and she thought she had a conflict with the appointment so called to change it. When I pointed out that there was no conflict and she was looking at the wrong month, she asked me to call and change the appointment back, which I did.

That was yesterday.

Today again she could not understand when the appointment was and how it did not conflict with another event. We kept trying to explain it to her, but even she mentioned that she just could not understand what was going on. It was frustrating for her and it is probably a discussion we will have again tomorrow, and maybe every day for a week and a half until her appointment.

I can’t meet Mom where she is on something like this because we can’t just go to a hair appointment this weekend that does not exist. Or what about when she insists that she has more porcelain dolls in the basement, when in reality they just do not exist? I can’t get them for her, because there is nothing there. I can’t pretend they exist because she wants to display them. It causes a lot of emotional pain for her, and all of us, to go through these times, but meeting her where she is, is not an option.

This middle stage of dementia can be quite hard to handle because you can not just enter into the imaginary world of the patient because they still know what is going on. They know their brain is not working correctly and they are struggling to understand what is reality and what is not.

I feel like much of the advice about dementia is for people in the advanced stages and those suggestions just do not apply to where Mom is. If anyone knows of more books or advice for people in the middle stages, let me know, maybe we have just not found it yet.

I guess today I am just trying to express that sometimes all the advice and suggestions in the world don’t work for individual situations. It is a frustrating and sometimes lonely place to be.


Rev. Katie

1 comment:

  1. Katie - I have a special needs adult son with dementia, and wrote you a long post about that, which was too many characters to be accepted by your system. If you would like to receive my post, please write me at and I'll reply with the comment I tried to post here. Sara