Here’s an interesting question. And one that gets to one of the lesser known side effects of dementia and Alzheimer’s.
It comes from a man who’s wife has dementia. She keeps insisting that they ‘go home’ to the place where she grew up 70 years ago. The husband wants to know how to best handle this.
Basically, how do you help a dementia patient who’s living in the past?
Dementia Patient Living in the Past: The Little Discussed Difficulties of Alzheimer’s Disease
Dealing with the effects of Alzheimer’s can be both trying and heartbreaking. Especially for those with little experience with the disease.
The endless questioning. The insistence on “truths” that aren’t true. It’s a challenge for even the most patient of souls.
Some effects of the disease aren’t talked about as much. One of them is at the heart of the husband’s question above. And this effect is that, as the disease progresses, people with Alzheimer’s often lose their ability to distinguish between recent events and memories from long ago.
Finding Comfort in the Past
So in the scenario above, his wife is probably thinking about her mom and her home. Both of these have brought her comfort in the past. And she’s recalling them now because, for someone with the disease, the past and present are interchangeable.
Situations like this require patience and understanding from loved ones and caregivers. The approach we recommend is to move away from a ‘reality orientation’ to ‘validation’.
Reality orientation is about getting someone with Alzheimer’s to focus on their immediate environment (ie. date, time, current events, photos in the room, current surroundings).
When someone is confusing the past with the present, we don’t recommend focusing on the “facts” of their surroundings.
Instead, try validation, where you shift the conversation to her underlying feelings.
Her childhood home clearly holds a special place in her memory. So make an effort to reinforce those memories in a positive way.
Say things like…”That was a beautiful place, wasn’t it. I bet your neighbors envied you.”
Understand that your wife’s (or other loved one’s) disease has created a wall between her reality and yours. It’s not that she’s “wrong” or intentionally trying to deny the truth. She is simply trying to cope with her own truth.