Imagine waking up one morning and being told that you are 50 years older than you are. Imagine your family desperately trying to convince you that your spouse passed away two years ago. Imagine how you would feel if everyone was telling you that the things you know to be true are wrong. Life would be confusing and scary, and you might get angry or begin to panic. Living with memory loss is like constantly being lost and out of touch with reality.
The first step in providing care for a parent with dementia is to put yourself in their position. Understand that dementia is more than being forgetful, but a shift in emotional and cognitive thinking which can be difficult and frightening to cope with. By trying to learn how your loved one feels, you can better tailor care to their needs and manage their symptoms.
When your loved one mistakes you for someone else, it is almost instinctual to correct them. One of the most difficult challenges of caring for someone with dementia is allowing them to believe things that aren’t true. If your loved one believes you are their sister, be their sister for the day. Rather than agitating them by attempting to reset their memory, play along. If your loved one believes they have to go to work – even though they have been retired for years – use that memory misstep to aid in the planning of their day. For instance, you can use work as a reason for them to shower and get ready for the day.
Many dementia and senior care specialists say this type of white lie, sometimes referred to as therapeutic lying, can help reduce stress for the senior and the caregiver. There is often no harm in allowing your loved one to believe they are someone else for the day, and in some cases, can help them remain active both physically and mentally. Although it’s not natural to lie to the ones we love and we often want to help them remember, it can be better to allow them to live in the peace of their own reality than to force them into ours.