Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Are You Asking People to Tell You Your Name?


Seriously, if you do this, please stop asking people living with dementia to tell you your name when you greet them. Don't start the conversation with a test they might fail along with your hurt feelings when they do fail. Just say your name and who you are. If they decide to give you another name, that may be okay, too. Don't say that person has been dead ten years, and you told them that 925 times. Don't say that dead people are never coming to visit them again, so quit asking about them or you will take them to the cemetery to see their graves as proof.

Can we all just get along and lighten up? As a hospice volunteer over 20 years mostly in Detroit nursing homes, I have learned there is no one way of handling dementia issues. A lot depends on the level of the disease a person has and their reality. Personally, I have enjoyed impersonating other people sometimes. For example, I have pretended to be a male hospice patient's deceased wife. When I entered his room the first time, he grinned widely, called me Judy, and said how glad he was to see me. Instinctively, I decided to try being Judy, even though I knew from the brief information I had been given about him that Judy, his deceased wife, had been dead several years.

From that day until he died, I entered his reality world as Judy whenever he decided that was who I was. Although neither one of us sang too well, we loved crooning old Motown songs when we reminisced about our dates at Belle Isle Park when we were married. Passing ships, seasonal surroundings, and our general joy were back-in-the-day scenarios we revisited. I often let him take the lead with his descriptive memories that were enlightening, amusing, and welcoming to me. I felt like I was right where I belonged being Judy. I knew we were making progress on some level.

When each visit ended, we BOTH had created more wonderful memories of our special time together at the nursing home. We could recall later with pleasure our experiences featuring a union of minds that made perfect sense to us. And I knew that I could always go back to being Frances Shani Parker in my own reality world any time.

Frances Shani Parker, an eldercare consultant and retired school principal, is author of Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing HomesThis book is available in paperback and e-book editions in America and other countries at online and offline booksellers. Visit Frances Shani Parker's website.