Has your loved one with dementia ever been disoriented? It’s distressing for everyone, most of all the individual with the memory impairment. As their caregiver, you can help them find security and comfort in a moment of frightening confusion.
There are two general schools of thought to supporting a Person with Dementia (PWD) who is disoriented: Validation Therapy and Reality Orientation. Validation Therapy, founded by Naomi Fiel, operates on the principle that the Care Partner should step into the world of someone with a memory impairment. Reality Orientation focuses on reminding the PWD of where they are in the present moment.
Opportunities to use validation therapy to reassure memory care residents happen every day at Dolan Memory Care Homes. For example, one resident routinely looks for her husband every day-she doesn’t remember her husband passed away years ago. Given her current level of cognition, she would experience immense heartbreak if we reminded her every day her husband passed away-she would likely start the grieving process all over again. The staff and family decided it’s best to tell her that her husband is “out golfing”. She relates to this, and carries on with her day. Her children struggle with telling what we call “love lies” to their mother-after all, weren’t we all raised being taught it’s unethical to lie to our parents?
Another resident in particular identifies better with reality orientation. She is processing anger related to moving into a memory care community. Occasionally she needs gentle reminding of why she lives with us-in these instances, her family uses reality orientation. We remind her she is forgetful sometimes and she lives with us so we can help her out with some housework. She appreciates the gentle cueing the reminders offer. They serve as a tool to process her anger and grief related to having a memory impairment.
Dolan Memory Care Homes social worker Jan McGillick says it best: who are you telling the love lie for-you? Or for your loved one? If telling a love lie reassures your loved one and brings them comfort, it’s likely you’re making the right choice by using validation therapy-even if it may cause you some discomfort.
Neither one of these approaches is wrong-there’s no perfect road map to caring for a loved one with dementia. Follow the lead of your PWD and your gut instinct. No matter what, remember you are doing the best you can for the person you love.