I had briefly mentioned in my previous post about the importance of meeting people where they're at. No matter what field of work you're in, I think that it's extremely necessary to think about this. I hear the saying all the time "the customer is always right" and I think that this has many truths to it. In my field of work, I find myself realizing this a lot with my residents. Whether it's in an exercise class, Bingo, doing a craft, or in everyday conversation; meeting my residents where they're at has become a norm for me.
Most days, I find myself in a whirlwind of tasks at work and zipping around the place in a hurry. Sometimes, when I realize myself running around in a hurry, I stop and take a look around and see how calm and content my residents are. They've worked so hard throughout their entire lives doing various occupations, and this is their home and finally, their time to rest and live slowly. When those moments of realization come upon me, I quickly stop myself, take a few deep breaths, and take things one task at a time. Now, a job of an activities director is generally a high-paced job that's full of many mini jobs within it, but I think that with the right mindset and the right pace, it can be possible to relax and take a breather every now and then without moving too fast-paced. That being said, even within the craziness of my normal work days, I'm easily reminded to slow myself down and adjust to the calm and slow-paced environment that my residents have worked so hard throughout their lives to live in and enjoy.
Within my short amount of time in the Human Services field, I've already experienced many situations where it's important to meet people where they're at. A lot of these experiences have been the times that I have been working in the Memory Care/Generations unit of my work. My resident's reality is much different than ours. Everyone there has a different norm and overall view of reality. Some residents think they're living in another state besides Arizona, some think they're staying at a hotel, and others might think that they're loved ones are still alive, even if they've passed away long ago. Honestly, anything goes over in the Memory Care unit and that's okay.
I have a resident who's 104 years old and talks about her mother all the time as if she's still alive. At that point though, you need to meet the person where they're at. It's much more comforting and less confusing for the resident if you simply acknowledge what they're saying, and to talk about it as if it's true because for them it is true and it's their normal. Instead of saying "Your mother isn't alive anymore, that wouldn't even be humanly possible" I try to add in on the conversation about this residents' mother as if she's still alive, because to my resident, her mother is still alive. It might not be true, but it's much easier as well as less confusing for that resident if you meet them where they're at in that moment in time.
No matter what is going on in the person's mind, I constantly work towards meeting my resident's where they're at and do my best to adjust to their reality. Some of my residents' think they're living in a hotel when in reality they're living in an assisted living home. Others don't think they're living in the state of Arizona; instead they might think that they're living in the state that they grew up in or raised a family in. It varies between every person, but I've noticed that each and every one of my residents has something that I find myself adjusting to because for them, it's their reality.
While writing this post, I came across an interesting article about the top five things that you should never say to a person with dementia:
- Don't tell them that they're wrong about something.
- Don't argue with the person.
- Don't ask if they remember something.
- Don't remind the person that a loved one has passed away.
- Don't bring up topics that may upset them.
Those top five tips are so true, and I've noticed them be important to keep in mind when it comes to meeting my residents where they're at.
Telling a resident that they're wrong about something can cause even more confusion in the person, and can even make them feel embarrassed if you correct them. Also, arguing with a person who has dementia can easily make them upset and even angry. In their minds, the way that they think is their reality and arguing with someone who's so set in their ways isn't going to get anywhere.
Again, asking someone with dementia to remember something like an event or a conversation that was previously had can make the person more confused and even embarrassed, because they most likely won't remember it. When it comes to conversations that I have with my residents, I tend to lean more towards open-ended questions instead of closed-ended questions, because the conversation can be lead by the resident, and they get to choose what they say, instead of the simple "yes" or "no" questions.
With reminding a person that a loved one has passed away, it's almost never a good idea to do this. A lot of the time, individuals with dementia believe that their loved ones are alive, even if they might have passed away. Arguing with that person and telling them that they have passed away can most likely make them angry because they may not believe you, or it could cause them to be extremely sad and upset, because in their mind, that person is still alive and you've only made them more sad. So, I find it helpful to talk to them as if their loved one is in fact still alive, because that's the reality in their minds.
This ties into bringing up topics that could upset residents who have dementia. As I mentioned, bringing up the topic of a loved one that passed away isn't something that should be brought up, unless the resident brings it up first. If they bring it up, it's clear that they're aware that they've passed away and that they want to talk about it. Simply bringing it up yourself could easily upset that person. It will most likely start an unneeded argument, or make that person sad.
In many situations that I've experienced so far, I've been reminded of the importance of adjusting to my residents' reality. It might be a reality that doesn't make any sense what-so-ever to me, but to them, it 100% makes sense, and that's what's important to keep in mind. The overall subject of 'meeting people where they're at' has been a topic on my mind that I've been wanting to touch on for a while now, but I couldn't seem to find the words to do so. Even as I'm whipping up this blog post, I still feel as if I haven't gotten all of my thoughts and feelings out about this important topic. It's a mindset that I think will be something that I'll be constantly working on throughout my entire experience in this field. Being able to express my feelings about the need for meeting people where they're at, even if it's just a short little snip-bit, makes me feel like I've made a good dent into diving into the topic and it's overall importance.
As always, here's a quote to end my post with:
"Those with dementia are still people. They still have stories, and they still have character. They're all individuals and they're all unique. They just need to be interacted with on a human level." - Carey Mulligan