This is easier said than done. Joining the realities of those affected is essential. Today one of the gentlemen at memory care was desperate to find his car keys. He believed his car was parked outside and an important trip was imperative. We can all relate to how frustrating this would be, once we embrace his reality.
Leaving our expectations at the door is a challenging proposition. Reality, as we know it, is now of secondary importance. When we enter their world, the stage is set and we are no longer writing the script. This would explain how I unwittingly sold my purse during lunch today.
Moments after I slung it over the back of my chair, one of the newest residents leapt from across the room to inspect my handbag. I was intently positioning Dad's plate in the most favorable position to collect the least amount of mashed potatoes on the side of his hand, when I felt the strap slip from the chair.
I turned to retrieve my purse and quickly realized it had not fallen on the floor. Instead, this lovely resident stood proudly, displaying my purse in her hands as if it were the grand prize. She lovingly examined the details as I silently gave thanks the messy conglomeration of holiday weekend overflow was zipped safely inside.
"I like this color!" she exclaimed.
"You like the gold?" I asked, "I think it's a happy color."
"It's just the right size," she continued.
"I think so," I proudly agreed. "It's big enough to hold what I need."
"These," she said, running her fingers up and down the straps.
"I like that it can be carried over my shoulder or as a handbag," I said.
"Me too!" she eagerly replied. "I'll take it!"
And with that - she went back to her seat, obviously preferring the shorter strap as her primary means of transport. I turned back around in my chair, marveling at the skills I possessed in closing the deal. I wondered if Dad had overheard and was proud of my enterprising exchange.
Unfortunately, he had not noticed as he was engaged in deals of his own. Somehow in the few moments it took to sell my purse, he convinced Rex to push his plate within arms' reach so he could swipe his mashed potatoes. Simultaneously, Dad was bargaining with Cartha for the cherry cake she apparently traded Rex for a chicken strip.
We cannot be so consumed with our reality that we fail to acknowledge theirs. These golden truths will help us navigate these mysterious waters.
Understand these folks continue to have preferences.
Whether it's cherry cake, 50's music, a tucked in shirt, soft pillows, or purse over the shoulder, these individuals know what they like. Having this disease does not mean they no longer have preferences.
Trade debating for creative communication.
Ten years ago I probably would have been inclined to engage in a debate over the fact my purse was not for sale. Today, this seems ludicrous. My skills at redirecting simply need to be as eloquent as my inadvertent sales pitch was.
Have a bargaining tool on hand at all times.
If my extensive stash of purses had been accessible, I am quite certain I could have sold my eager shopper on the idea of a more suitable selection - one not containing my car keys and other essentials. Instead, I was left hoping for a distraction to provide an opportunity for retrieval during lunch.
Identity is found in familiar objects.
There are things which make us feel good - a crisp bill or a handkerchief, a purse or a hat. One of the gentlemen has his leather case with him at all times; it obviously holds some very important papers he often looks through. Familiar objects never lose their significance.
Redirection does not have to happen immediately.
There is a reason behind every action. The look of pride this woman had with my purse proudly displayed on the table was priceless! It obviously stirred feelings and made her feel special. I reasoned this was worth allowing her to enjoy her purchase for awhile longer.
The reality in which these folks are living deserves respect. Although those with this disease are too often compared to children, they are far from it. They possess a rich history which is triggered in unpredictable ways.
Additionally, children are trainable; we can reason with them and explain why a certain behavior is unacceptable. Hopefully, this will result in a more favorable outcome in the future. Not so with these folks, which means we are the trainable ones who must adjust.
It is likely my purse will be bought on a predictable basis should I choose to hang it over my chair again. I plan to take a backup next time, one this dear lady can enjoy forever once purchased. Perhaps I'll stock it with a few special surprises!
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