Finding the Humor in Dementia
For years I have worked with patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Yes. It is very debilitating and sad. Yes. It can be depressing. I constantly see patients that decline and become people that families don’t even recognize. But instead of focusing on the terrible process of this disease and its symptoms, one must find joy and humor in it. Anyone who works with patients that have dementia would understand this, otherwise we’d be crying all day long.
For anyone who has ever encountered silly things that patients with dementia say, please comment below!
I wanted to share with you some of my own experiences.
I will not mention any names, or major descriptions about these people’s appearances to protect their privacy and rights, of course. I will, however, create pseudonyms for them.
I see Gina daily. Gina enjoys rocking back and forth in her wheelchair. She lives in a long term facility and attends my art therapy programs occasionally. For a few weeks in a row, Gina declined my invitations to art therapy. This is how it went:
Me: Hi Gina, how are you? Would you like to come to art today?
Gina: No, I can’t (Out of breath)
Me: Oh is everything ok?
Gina: I’m in the middle of this pancake sale. It’s a lot of work and I have to finish up so I can’t come to art.
Me: Oh did you want to take a break from all that work?
Gina: No, I would feel bad for leaving them and I need to finish what I started.
Mind you, there was no pancake sale in sight, just a typical day at the nursing home. Gina continued rolling up the hall in her wheelchair.
Me: Hi Gina, how are you? I would love it if you joined us for art today!
Gina: I can’t, I’m sorry.
Me: What’s going on?
Gina: I’m installing some shelving in the lavatory.
Me: Wow, that’s a lot of hard work!
Gina: Yes indeed it is! (wheels away)
(when you work with patients with dementia, living in their reality is sometimes very helpful. If I said to her “There are no shelves in the lavatory, or what the heck lavatory are you talking about??” this can upset or confuse someone with dementia even more)!
Me: Gina, we miss you at art class.
Gina: I can’t go today.
Me: Aww, why not Gina.
Gina: I have dog things to do (wheels away quickly)
I still don’t understand what she meant when she said this, I’m assuming she had to take care of her “dog”.
She truly believed that she was doing all these things. In the past, Gina was very involved with a church, so she probably participated in a lot of pancake sales before she arrived at our facility. She really believed she was in the middle of a pancake sale. She REALLY believed that she was installing shelves in the bathroom (mind you, she is a tiny frail thing that is confined to her wheelchair). I can’t help but laugh when patients answer me with these scenarios out of the blue. So when my co worker asked me if Gina came to art therapy one day, I responded with a serious gesture, “No, she was busy installing shelves in the lavatory so she couldn’t make it” xD
Stay tuned for more dementia stories…