The Woman in the Mirror

You may have heard the familiar phrase, “ If you know one person with Alzheimer’s, you know one person with Alzheimer’s.”  As a longtime caregiver to people with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia, I have had the opportunity to encounter so many different scenarios and learn from them.  Some have been very pleasant, while others have been something less than pleasant, but nonetheless, its always a learning experience.

One of those less than pleasant scenarios was with a resident named Emma whom I will never forget.  She was such a kind, gentle woman.  As a sufferer from Alzheimer’s disease, her mind had regressed in time as her disease progressed forward.  To us, she was in her 80s.  To her, she was in her 20s.

One day, I observed her talking to her reflection in the mirror in the common area.  She was distressed and mumbled things like, “I am trying to help. I cannot. I am sorry.  I do not know what to do.  I cannot get you out.”  Emma was very upset and reached toward the mirror as if to help get the woman out.  The more upset Emma became, the more confused the woman in the mirror became.  I approached Emma, gently put my hand on her shoulder and said, “It is okay Emma.  I’ll help her.  Come with me.”  I led her away from the mirror and reassured her again I would go back to help the woman.

Needless to say, we removed the mirror along with all other mirrors from the common areas throughout our community, as well as the one in her room.  Never again did I want to see Emma or any other resident, upset by a mirror that reflected an unrecognized person lost in the imprisonment of this reality-stealing disease.  Shortly thereafter, our action to remove the mirrors was affirmed by the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America as it is part of their recommendation for creating an environment conducive to people with dementia.  This was one of the many criteria that helped us earn an Excellence in Dementia Care recognition by the Foundation.

The scenario with Emma was less than pleasant, but we learned from it, and it helped us better understand the unique needs of people with dementia.  Each situation, whether it is positive or negative, helps us gain experience and apply it to others living with the disease.