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Finding the Meaning in What They Say

Finding the Meaning in What They Say

One of the first interactions that I had with someone with dementia occurred many years ago. I was spending the day with my mother-in-law in a facility in Toronto. For part of the morning we sat in the lobby watching the crazy Toronto traffic drive by.

I happened to notice a van go by with the name “Howland” printed in large letters on the side. Apparently, so did my mother-in-law. The reason that I know this is because later that afternoon, while sitting in her room, she turned to me and said “Howland”. Now if I hadn’t been with her that morning and seen the truck myself, I would have thought that she was talking nonsense. But because I had been there, and I had seen the truck, I knew exactly where it was coming from. It wasn’t nonsense at all, it just took her a while to process the information. In fact, her announcement of “Howland” led to a fun conversation about the morning, the truck and traffic because I recognized the topic and was able to follow her lead.

While you can’t always be there to know the background behind what the person with Alzheimer's says, the important point is to recognize that there is a reason for them saying it. If you can work to understand that reason then you can connect with them and help them talk about it. The more often that you can do that, the stronger your relationship with the person with Alzheimer's will become.


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