As we age, our chances of having contact with people living with dementia increase. The Alzheimer's Association defines dementia as a general term for loss of memory, language, problem-solving, and other thinking abilities that are severe enough to interfere with daily life. Dementia is caused by abnormal brain cells. Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia. When brain cells cannot communicate normally, thinking, behavior and feelings can be affected.
Although reality is “the world of things as they actually exist,” everybody does not perceive reality in the same way. Interacting with a person living with dementia can be confusing in terms of their perceptions of reality. Having volunteered in Detroit nursing homes for many years as a hospice volunteer, I have noticed that some people feel the need to have the person living with dementia guess who they are when they visit them. They greet them asking, "Who am I?' while hoping the person will say their name correctly. They are disappointed when the wrong answer is given, even though they know the person has dementia. I find this response troubling because greeting anyone with a name test can be problematic. Just think of all the times people without dementia can't remember people's names. It's actually quite common.
With that in mind, I decided to write about this on my blog to give people a better understanding of the role they can play when interacting with people living with dementia. There is no one way of interacting. Finding what works for a particular person can be very challenging, particularly regarding the degree of dementia that exists. My personal focus has always been on creating pleasant experiences whenever possible. I liken it to creating a good movie that can be reflected on pleasantly by the actors and viewers later.
Frances Shani Parker