Part of my private practice involves working with individuals who are learning to manage the early symptoms of dementia while living at home. I help them to maintain their cognitive skills and ability to care for themselves, encourage them to exercise, eat well, and maintain their social lives, and we work together to make modifications to their homes that will help them to successfully age in place. We talk about the importance of choosing to start each day with a positive attitude and to recognize and appreciate all of the little gifts our life brings.
I also spend a lot of time listening; I want to know how they feel about having dementia.
Recently, one of my clients shared with me an experience that was very scary and frustrating for her. Tears came to her eyes as she conveyed her simple, yet rather heart-breaking story. My friend was getting ready to meet a longtime friend for lunch. She was supposed to wait outside of her apartment building on the side walk. Her husband was out running errands. She was eagerly anticipating this outing and dressed herself in one of her favorite sweaters and matching jewelry. All was going well until it was time to leave. She could not remember how to put on her coat. She had several coats from which to choose, but no, she could not remember how to put on any of them. Anxiety over took her. It was cold out, she had to wait outside, and there was no one home to help her put on her coat. “I’m still me,” she said to me “but I couldn’t figure out how to put on my coat.”
If you live or work with people with dementia, please be patient and compassionate. Realize they are going through a silent struggle each day, in which even the simplest tasks can seem daunting. Remember that inside, they are still the person you know and love.