Where is my mother? Father? Brother? Husband? When these questions come from my residents at three in the morning, I have to do an on the spot assessment. If not handled correctly, these conversations can quickly spiral into an emotional meltdown that unnecessarily traumatize those living with memory disorders.
Too many people, from the doctors to new caregivers, make the rookie mistake of attempting to pull those living with dementia into their level of awareness rather than meeting them where they are. Instead of trying to convince those living with Alzheimer’s or dementia of our reality, it is better to actively listen through the words they say to assess the resident’s needs.
When I hear “where’s my mother,” I think about what my resident’s mother might have provided her that she may be missing in that particular moment and attempt to fill that need as best I can. It is not 100% effective but it has worked better than any other method I’ve utilized so far in this field. Where’s my mother at three in the morning could mean any number of things. Did she have a nightmare and need reassurance? Did she wake up hungry? Does she need to use the bathroom? Is she in discomfort? All of these basic needs were once taken care of by her mother and in recognizing that, I am usually able to put her at ease and through the process of elimination, discover and solve the problem my resident could not articulate.
Have you ever been anxious or frustrated or simply in a funk for no specific reason? Maybe you didn’t even realize you were feeling down until someone said or did something that pulled you from it? It’s happened to me plenty of times and it’s a strange feeling when my emotions don’t match with my reality. Imagine walking through that with severe cognitive impairment, when your reality is just as fluid as your emotions. It would terrify me if someone attempted to convince me that what I know in my mind to be true isn’t real. I would be too scared and frustrated to comply with even the simplest of suggestions. Part of caregiving is learning how to translate. There is a language and understanding that can only be developed by active listening, keen observation skills and empathy. It up to us to first understand that language and then translate it for those who don’t know those in our care as well as we do. It is how we make certain our residents do not get lost in translation.