When our loved one has dementia, you quickly learn that often what they see and hear and the experience gets processed through their brains and comes out a little different than what we see, hear, and experience. Dementia changes their brain, sometimes daily. But what they are experiencing is very real to them and a positive caregiver learns to go along with their reality and is agreeable. No need to correct and make them feel upset or anxious because what they think is real isn’t, or that you think they are incorrect or unintelligent.
An example is my Dad sometimes tells me his food is cold. I just put hot soup in a coffee cup and served it to him on a tray. The spoon seems cold to his hand and the cup is cold to his hand—therefore his soup is cold. I take the spoon and stir it up a little and ask him to try a tiny taste and just ‘check it for me’… and usually, we are all set. Sometimes not—I have to show him I am putting it in the microwave and heating it back up again –or he just isn’t convinced it is hot enough. I just go with the flow for whatever keeps him satisfied and calm.
One day he tells me his soup is too salty. It is canned Progresso Soup which he has been eating daily for lunch for years. The recipe hasn’t changed, he usually loves this soup, but today it is too salty to eat. I just say OK, add a little water, throw away the remains he didn’t eat.
One day he asks me what is this fancy sauce that is on his plate next to his hash browns. He thinks I’m am an amazing cook that made a very delicious sauce. I tell him it is Ketchup and I didn’t make it but thanks for the compliment; it was the same Heinz Ketchup we always use! He said no way – it is absolutely amazing and very tasty, he never tasted anything like it before! So, I tasted it and agreed with him. You know what, it was very good ketchup! I told Dad “Enjoy away, you can have all you want!”
As a long-time caretaker, you get used to their perceptions being a little ‘off’ and different, but that’s ok. This week, two things happened that really caught me by surprise! Dad enjoys having a few potato chips and I try to keep them on hand because he likes them! He should have the things he likes. Plus, I figure him eating salty chips will make him thirsty and he will drink his Ensure Clear Juice more which is really good for him. This week, he had some chips and said they were awful like they didn’t have salt on them. I shrugged and said they were the chips I always buy… but if he didn’t like them to not eat them, I could get him something else. Two days later, it happened again. I tasted the chips myself and thought, weird—they do taste more potato-y and not salty. I checked the bag and it was UNSALTED chips! Dad was right!
Another incidence happened today. I give Dad his ‘night pills’. A batch of them come in little pre-filled bubbles that the pharmacy prepares for us—what a wonderful time saver and helps keep us on track! I often add one or two more depending on what is going on with Dad. Currently, he is getting one pro-biotic, and 1 Aleve and 1 Imodium. He gets 7 pills every night. I put them in a tall skinny shot glass so that he will ‘shoot’ them into his mouth directly from the glass. This was learned by me because usually, he poured them in his hand, and tiny pills fall out into his lap, chair, floor…not to be found for days. I have to stand there and watch and wait, because if I leave, he puts it down, forgets about it and never takes them. If I come back, he tells me he already took them and can’t take them again.
He usually asks about the pills in his funny joking way. He might say “What are these for? Will they make me Handsome Young and Rich?” I will go along with his jokes and say we are trying but so far they didn’t work!” Or I might say “We are going for smart, isn‘t that better than handsome?” haha. It’s nice when it goes like this and he just downs the pills. Occasionally, he will stop me and ask seriously "No really, what are they for?". Then I go pill by pill and tell him what they are and what they are treating. Sometimes he will just say OK and other times we get into an uncomfortable conversation about dementia. I try my hardest to avoid it, but sometimes we do end up there. (I avoid it because he doesn’t remember he has it, doesn’t understand who decided he has it, and get angry, upset, etc…☹ ).
Every time I give him the shot glass, he counts the pills. Sometimes he counts up to 14’ and looks at me to see if I’m paying attention, I respond “OMG, it’s not 14, is it? What are you doing getting all the good medicine? It was only supposed to be 7! I don’t want you to get too young and handsome—it will shock your grandkids. Let’s check again.” He will say he was only kidding.
Tonight, he counted them and said there were 8 pills. I say "Really? It’s supposed to be 7, it’s 7 every night Dad. Check again!" He counted and said there were 8 pills. Then he said they were all different except he could see there were 2 tiny green ones. I asked him to let me check—and you know what? There were 8 pills! There were 2 tiny green ones that were part of the pre-pack from the pharmacy. Tiny error on their part. Luckily, that tiny pill was really yellow, and it is a tiny baby aspirin, so not really a big deal if he had two of them just this once.
LESSON LEARNED: Yes, caretakers, go along with your loved one’s perceptions, but you know what? Sometimes they are ‘right on the ball’ and clearly are knowing what is going on! Especially important to keep this in mind if your loved one is NOT living with you. When they are in an Assisted Living or situation where they are being cared for and report something about their experience that might on the surface seem fantastical, it’s really important to verify and check up on what they say. They might be clear and in reality!