I had the pleasure of being a guest at a support group last night at a local assisted living community here in Fort Worth. I was the guest speaker, and I did a brief presentation on elderspeak, the topic of the last blog post.
We had a good discussion, but as most good discussions do, it took a turn, and we ended up talking about other things. One of the people in the group brought up an issue with her mother who has dementia. It seems that her mother keeps talking about "going home".
Going home can mean different things to people with dementia, and it can mean different things at different stages of dementia. In this case, this lady wants to go home to the state where she spent most of her life. Her daughter reported that she was considering taking her mom on the trip home, but was worried that the trip would be hard, because her mom is frail and in poor health. Before I could say anything, one of the other group members exclaimed "You can't take her home, that wouldn't be safe! Besides, you'd be doing it for yourself, not for her."
Good points, and certainly more meaningful coming from the other group member, who is dealing with similar issues. But what I was able to contribute to this person is the idea of redirecting her mother. It seems that her mother equates "home" with a time in her life when she was younger, healthier, and happier. I suggested that the daughter might want to talk to her mom about not being able to go home now, but let's talk about home. The daughter can ask her mom to tell her stories about home, and they can look through family photos of home they can reminisce about those happier times. The daughter can validate her mother's feelings that home was a happy place full of good memories. As mom begins to forget those longer term memories, things can shift, and the daughter can tell the stories.
Validating and redirecting is not hard to do, but it does take patience and empathy. When you think how scary it must be to not remember people or places, it can be a comfort when someone takes the time to listen to the stories you do remember, and who cares enough to remind you of the things you've forgotten.