People with Dementia: Wanting to Be Anywhere but Here

In reading news or blogs online, you can find people expressing one of two opinions. Some people express a desire to go back to the time before COVID-19. Others note feeling restless until COVID-19 is over. It’s as though we want to ‘be’ somewhere else. It is natural that we feel lost. We feel we have limited or no control. We are prohibited from doing what we would like to do.  Reflecting on these valid feelings, it is easier to understand how people with dementia must feel on a daily basis.

Living in Memories

For people with dementia, the long-term memories, the ones with the most feelings attached, are the ones they feel and remember most and best. Someone with dementia may frequently ask about people who are long gone. They also may continually ask about certain events or everyday times from long ago in that person’s life. People with dementia have security in memories from the past. Those memories are accompanied by deep feelings. Is it hard to understand why they would want to be there, instead of here, where they may not remember someone’s name or face?

Where Am I Supposed to Be?

In supporting people with dementia, there might be a tendency to reemphasize what day it is, what time it is, and where someone is. There may be a perfectly good reason for reorienting someone, especially if it helps to accomplish a necessary task or diminishes agitation. It is important to remember why it may be hard for someone to remember where they are, or even why they need to.

Reminding someone of things they do not remember, bringing them back to the present, can be upsetting. It may reinforce feelings of not being in control, feeling lost. If those of us who do not have dementia do not want to be here, going through this time, why would we get upset with someone with dementia who cannot get back ‘here’?

Honoring Memories, Acknowledging Feelings

By honoring what persons with dementia remember, we are respecting their present time. Their present time holds the memories that bring them comfort. As a result, that may be where they want to be: not here, but there. By changing their focus to the present can bring them pain and frustration. We remember who they used to be. They likely know they are not fully that person. As a result, there is pain on both sides.

Thank goodness for the direct care workers . They meet people with dementia where they are. These individuals can accept them for who they are. May we continue to honor our loved ones with dementia and those who help us in our caregiving journeys.

Kathy Dreyer, Ph.D., is an Advisor at AGE-u-cate® Training Institute, which develops and delivers innovative research-based aging and dementia training programs such as Dementia Live® and Compassionate Touch®, for professional and family caregivers;

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