Navigating the Alternate Realities Created by Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s DiseaseAlzheimer’s disease alters a senior’s mind so that recollections surrounding more recent incidents are lost or mixed up while those from the more distant past often remain intact. As a result, an older adult with Alzheimer’s disease may find the past more understandable than the present. The senior’s alternate reality can be his or her way of making sense of the present through prior experiences.

Seniors with Alzheimer’s or dementia frequently have problems expressing themselves, and sometimes their alternate reality has more to do with a desire or a specific feeling they are attempting to express than it has to do with the words they are saying.

For instance:

  • “When will my wife be home?” This question could be more about a need for affection or acceptance or a home cooked dinner than it is about wanting to see his wife, who died quite a few years ago. An appropriate response to discover more might be, “Why would you like to see her?”
  • “I need to take all these cookies to the neighbors by the end of today.” Although these cookies aren’t real, the words may reveal a need for meaning in everyday life or wanting to be included in an activity. An effective response to discover more could be, “Why did you make cookies for your friends?”

Maintaining a log of these sorts of activities may help you see trends in needs. The more you tune in and pay close attention, the easier it will be to understand the thought process behind the alternate reality and the best way to respond.

Should You Play Along?

Providing the circumstances won’t be harmful or inappropriate, it is fine to play along with the older person’s alternate reality. Doing so will not make the dementia worse. Bear in mind, your loved one’s reality is true to him/her and playing along might make your loved one feel better.

If the scenario is inappropriate or could result in harm to your loved one, try to reply to the perceived need while redirecting the individual to something less unsafe or more appropriate.

Bear in mind these 3 strategies:

  1. Reassure the person.
  2. Respond to his or her need.
  3. Redirect if necessary.

In addition, call on the in-home care company Sacramento families trust. At Live Well at Home, our care providers are trained in caring for those with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia and can provide respite care services for family caregivers throughout Sacramento and Placer Counties who need some time to refresh and recharge.

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