An eighty-eight year old female resident of an Assisted Living Dementia Unit was standing near the entrance to the dining room at the busiest time in the late afternoon right before dinner. The CNA’s were all occupied in trying to get residents situated in the dining room, and this particular resident was standing right in the way. Each time a CNA approached, the resident pointed at her newly curled and set hair and stated, in her broken words, “Look…this…my husband…salon.” And, each time the CNA’s would answer with pretty much the same response, “That’s nice.”
That response reminds me of a joke going around on Facebook:
Two friends who hadn’t seen each other in fifteen years, get together for lunch to catch up. The first woman boasts, “You know, when I got married, my husband gave me a 24 carat gold and diamond necklace.”
“That’s nice,” said the second woman.
“And for our 10th Anniversary, he gave me a Mercedes-Benz,” she continued.
“That’s nice,” said her friend.
“And just this year, my husband bought me a million dollar beach house for my birthday.”
“So, what did your husband get you?”
“He paid for me to attend finishing school.”
“Finishing school? Whatever for?”
“So that I would learn to say ‘that’s nice’ instead of ‘who gives a damn?’.
Telling a demented individual “that’s nice” is the equivalent of saying “so what?”. “That’s nice” is a dismissive phrase, and although, the CNA’s thought that they were communicating and acknowledging the resident, they were actually doing quite the opposite. After all, dismissiveness is actually the antithesis of communication. It says, “I don’t want to hear it…I don’t want to communicate.”
Although I am sure that the CNA’s had not intended to say “I don’t care” to their resident, this is the message that came across and I could tell that the woman was disappointed/saddened by it. Interestingly enough, she was not put off. In fact, she was quite determined to get an acknowledgement from someone, and she continued her attempt to acquire validation from anyone/everyone who walked by.
I approached this beautiful resident and stated, “Wow Beatrice! You got your hair done today! It looks wonderful!”
She beamed and said, “Thanks. My husband…my hair…and he’s liking dinner.”
“Your husband paid for you to get your hair done?”
“Uh-hum…and my dinner…and he’s happy…good…no…pretty wife.”
“Oh, and afterwards he takes you out for dinner to show you off as his pretty wife?”
“Yes!” she stated excitedly with a huge grin on her face, “Bye!”
That’s all she wanted to say.
It took less than a minute for me to provide what this lovely woman was waiting for – an acknowledgement of her nice hairdo and validation of what her husband saw in her. The exchange was short, but it made all the difference in the world to her because someone was able to help remind her of her husband’s admiration and love.
So, the next time someone with dementia approaches you with something and you are tempted to say “that’s nice”, DON’T! Take a moment and find out what it is that the demented individual is trying to communicate and acknowledge that whatever it is is extremely important to them. Make it extremely important to you.