Redirecting with Success
“It’s time for me to go home”. A phrase not unfamiliar to many caregivers of people living with dementia. It’s common for people living with dementia, especially in moderate to later stages to seek home. For some, they may be seeking a literal home- a home prior to a move to a senior living residence, or perhaps a childhood home. For others, they may be expressing an emotional need of confusion, loneliness, or boredom.
“Quartet”, a 2012 film directed by Dustin Hoffman and starring Maggie Smith and Pauline Collins, follows four friends living in a senior home for retired musicians. The film follows the Quartet as they prepare for a performance at the residence’s annual gala. A previously world renowned Quartet, the performance will be the first reunion in decades of the four friends. Throughout the film, Collin’s character presents with some slight impairments to her cognition. Right before their performance, these symptoms increase and she is seeking to leave. While the two others in the Quartet become concerned and begin to panic, Smith jumps in and provides a supportive redirection for Collins that allows her to successfully perform at the gala.
First, Smith does not dismiss Collins. She does not try to rationalize with her, remind her of the year or argue. She does not laugh or judge, rather, she stays calm under the pressure. She provides the emotional assurance that Collins is seeking and then provides a reason for why they need to complete the performance before going anywhere else. Despite her implied dementia, Collins was able to successfully perform with her friends.
- When supporting a person living with dementia, we can mirror the formula depicted in the “Quartet”.
Stay calm. A person living with dementia will often match the emotion of the person they are speaking with, staying patient and relaxed may help decrease anxiety they may be experiencing.
- Validate the Emotional Experience. Understand that your loved one’s reality is real to them, even if it’s not real to you. Try to name and empathize with the emotion they are experiencing.
- Determine a Supportive Next Step. Consider what might be helpful for your loved one to hear– that they can go home at a later time, or perhaps be vague, and say that you will look into returning.
- Redirect to Something Pleasant. After validating the experience and offering reassurance, find something pleasant to do together.
Putting these communication strategies into play are not as easy as they look in the movies, but like anything, practice will help determine what works best for you and your loved one. Meeting your loved one where they are at emotionally can facilitate a supportive environment, despite the sometimes challenging symptoms of a dementia diagnosis.
Laurel McLaughlin MS, CDP