Reality Orientation: Can it Help With Early Stages of Dementia?

Unfortunately there is no true “treatment” or cure for those with the early stage of dementia.

At least for now.

This means caring for someone with the disease really comes down to providing them with comfort and assurance.

Based on decades of experience caring for those with Alzheimer’s, we can offer valuable insights about how to do that. And also offer ideas on how to create an environment that gives your loved one the highest quality of life possible in their unique situation.

Frustration and Anxiety

One common sign of Alzheimer’s disease is that people get confused.

They ask a question. They hear the answer. Then they soon ask the same question again. And again. And again.

This can be incredibly frustrating for a caregiver. Responding to this repeated questioning requires a lot of patience and understanding.

You may have answered the question, “Today is Sunday, isn’t it?” dozens of times. And while it may try your patience, understand this… someone with Alzheimer’s simply doesn’t remember asking the question. Or understand.

This inability to remember and lack of understanding leads to anxiety for a person with Alzheimer’s. Particularly for those with the early stages of dementia.

What Is Reality Orientation?

One helpful strategy to use in these early stages is known as “Reality Orientation”.

This is where you focus on the immediate environment (including the date, time, current events, photos in the room and the current surroundings). You include these things in your conversation. You frequently and repeatedly point them out while talking to someone with early stage dementia.

By patiently and truthfully answering their questions each time, we can temporarily clear up their confusion and ease their anxiety.

Studies on Reality Orientation

There are a few studies that show interesting effects of Reality Orientation.

One study found Reality Orientation improved the cognitive functioning of people with dementia.

Another study found Reality Orientation may delay the placement decision because it slows cognitive decline.

And a third study found that Reality Orientation may provide some help with cognition as well as help improve the challenging behavior some with dementia exhibit.

As the disease progresses, however, Reality Orientation becomes counter-productive. Because, in later stages of the disease, any attempt to “clear things up” results in further anxiety or confusion.

At that point, it may be time to switch to a technique called “Validation Therapy.” We’ll cover that topic in another article.

But, for now, if you’re caring with someone in the early stages of dementia, it’s worth looking into Reality Orientation. It may help improve your loved one’s cognition, behavior and delay them having to be placed in a memory care facility.