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Guest Post: Living in Their Reality

This story was written by Katie, the AutumnGrove Cottage Development Officer. Katie has been with AutumnGrove Cottage a little over 5 years and has shown such a passion for helping our residents and their families. 

When I joined AutumnGrove over 5 years ago I had little experience with Alzheimer’s.  Shortly there after my grandmother, great aunt and great uncle were all diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. That coupled with my desire to better understand our residents led me to ask a lot of questions about the disease and its side affects on people.  A phrase I heard over and over again was “live in their reality”. This was a concept my left brain would not let me easily grasp.  After several months, I finally summoned the courage to tell our social worker I had no idea what “living in their reality” meant in spite of several people trying to explain it to me. I asked if she could “quietly” help me understand this concept that alluded me.  She told me a story of a resident who was a stay at home mom.  She had several children and everyday at 3:30 she would tell the caregivers she needed to pick up her children from the bus stop.  If you explained to her that her children were grown and she did not need to pick them up she would get frustrated and visibly concerned that she was being lied to.  In her mind she was in her late 20’s and if she didn’t pick her kids up they would be alone and scared or even worse, in danger.  Telling a mother to not worry about her kids is an unreasonable assertion.  So to live in her reality, at 3:30 they would take her outside to sit on a bench so she could wait on the bus until the motherly instinct would pass and she would wonder why they were sitting outside.

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AutumnGrove Cottage Resident

My Aunt Josephine is suffering from late stages of dementia.  She is 86, but thinks she is in her late teens.  She often talks about needing to take care of her siblings and help work in the fields with her parents picking cotton.  Not living in her reality, we tried to explain to her how she is 86 and her parents and several of her siblings are no longer living.  At first she was horrified, then confused, and then she accused us of being crazy.  I think she may be right. I was slowly beginning to understand what it meant to live in their reality.

Ruth was a nurse in New York.  When her husband relocated to Houston she became one of the first female instructors at Lamar College.  When she moved into our Champions Cottage, Mrs. Ruth still believed she was a nurse. To live in her reality, each morning she was given charts, she took the blood pressure of caregivers and she directed the staff nurses.  Not only would telling her she is retired and no longer a nurse create confusion, it would have taken her purpose from her and robbed her of the self accomplishment she experienced.

Jolene Brackey says it best in her book “Creating Moments Of Joy” when she explains “The bottom line is this- there is no reasoning with a person who has Alzheimer’s, and you will not be able to make them live your reality. Choose to accept (that) and everybody wins”.

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