Improv – Alzheimer’s Style
People don’t enter the role of caregiver with a full understanding of what actually comes with a dementia diagnosis. When I had to step into that position with my grandparents it was because the bottom had suddenly fallen out. I’d known for some time that something wasn’t right, but at 29 I had no idea what to do about it.
I had struggled, knowing my grandmother was saying strange, disconnected things, repeating herself incessantly, and when I pointed out to her that she’d already told me something, a hazy confusion would cross her face. When she was finally diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, I didn’t understand what it really meant.
So I began to read and research and gather information—like any writer worth their salt—and I learned that my entire way of approaching Grandma would have to change. She was no longer going to be able to function in my world, so I was going to have to enter hers:
Grandma: How’s Lester doing?
(Lester had been dead for years.)
Me: He’s fine.
It took time for me to learn that contradicting her never did do any good—but it certainly caused plenty of distress. Even people who are fully cognizant don’t like being harshly confronted when they’re wrong. Why would we expect our elderly loved ones (even those with dementia) to react any differently?
Hold your loved one’s hand; hug them, and smile when you talk to them. Don’t be afraid to let them lead the conversation for as long as they can—and be willing to go wherever their lead may take you. It may take some improvisation on your part, but when their life-journey is finally over, you’ll see with fresh eyes that entering their world helped preserve their dignity.