“When can I go home?”
“What is this place?”
“Why are you leaving me here?”
These are examples of some of the difficult questions that memory care residents may ask their family, friends, and caretakers. To many of us, the questions can feel heartbreaking. However, there are compassionate and meaningful ways to handle them.
Professionals in the memory care field, like team members at Goodman Group managed properties, have learned and developed ways to address the uncomfortable questions that memory care residents ask. We're sharing some of our tried-and-true techniques to help you manage those difficult moments while also providing the sense of peace and comfort your loved one deserves.
Redirecting the Conversation
One way to address a difficult question is to redirect the topic altogether. For example, if your loved one says “I want to go home,” a comforting response could be, “Tell me about home.” Then let them tell their story. “When they ask about home, it’s often their childhood home,” Marthe Lawrence, Executive Director of Villa at Terracina memory care community explains. “It’s a comfort thing, not a physical structure” they’re likely interested in.
“That way,” Tina, Regional Director of Life Enrichment, says, “they don’t get anxious. They think you’re going to be back later, and then while they’re doing that new activity, their anxiety decreases.” Because of the very nature of memory loss, redirecting attention and activity even for a short period of time can relieve momentary anxiety.
Being Truthful When it Counts
“Where’s my wife?” Team member Tina relates the story of Leonard, a resident who asks that question every afternoon. Because this is a daily question, the staff has actually laminated Leonard’s wife’s obituary and placed it, along with her photograph, at Leonard’s bedside. When the question arises, Tina will say, “Leonard, let’s go over here and you can read [the obituary] and you’ll remember that your wife has passed away.”
“He’ll cry for a moment,” Tina continues, “and then he’ll say, ‘I’m glad I know that now.’” Tina says that while there may be tears, that’s not a bad thing. “It’s important to have those feelings,” she reminds us.
When loved ones with dementia ask questions that are difficult for us to answer, they’re not always looking for what we might think of as our truth. They’re really looking for comfort, according to Marthe.
Marthe reminds us that for those with memory loss, time frames can be regressive — their memories revert back in time. So, although we are living in 2017, someone with memory loss may actually be experiencing memories in 1950 or 1940 — or even earlier.
“Live in their moment, which may not be yours,“ Marthe advises.
“Be an investigator and ask the right questions,” Marthe says, “and they’ll tell you.” Not only will that be a comfort to your loved one, but you will gain insight into their memories and their lives — a comfort to you, as well.