When I went to see one of the ladies with Alzheimer’s I volunteer to visit – we’ll call her Ruth – she told me a long story about how during World War II, the army used to arrange for young ladies to visit a nearby base on Friday nights to dance with the soldiers. She was one of the girls.
It was an interesting story. But the thing is that she tells me the same story every time I see her.
This could be annoying. If I wanted her to be “normal” I might have told her she’d told that story the last time and that we should talk about something else.
But nothing will ever make this lady “normal” so I had to reframe the situation. I realized this event must have been very important in her life.
I further realized that she repeated the story because she didn’t remember she’d told me about it before. For her, each time she told me was like the first time she’d ever told me about it.
So I decided to respond each time as though it was the first time I’d heard it. I listened patiently, made responsive comments at the right times and asked questions (to which I knew the answers from previous times) to help her remember all the details.
I learned not to be annoyed by her incessant repetition, but rather to use it as a basis for our conversations. I began to actually look forward to the “dancing” story, which she so loved telling me.
The lesson here is that if we can step into the world of people with Alzheimer’s we can truly enjoy being with them. It takes so little to entertain them. If they are still able to converse with you, just ask them to tell you a favorite story from their past – even if you’ve already heard it a dozen times.
And finally, remember that it isn’t always the content of a conversation that matters. Sometimes it’s just how much you enjoy talking together whether the stories you’re told are new ones or old ones