Q&A: Tamar Krebs, Founder of Group Homes Australia answers your questions about dementia

Nov 19, 2021

Getting a diagnosis of dementia is never easy. Both for the person getting the diagnosis, and their support network. Everyone’s journey with dementia will be different. Tamar Krebs, Founder of Group Homes Australia answered some questions she’s been asked about engaging with a loved one living with dementia.

My dad is living with dementia. How do I answer him when he talks about his mum and dad being alive? Do I go along with it? Or tell him they have passed away?

“We recognize that there are two realities when caring for someone living with dementia- the person living with dementia’s reality and our reality. Our reality is the here and now, who that person is now, and their diagnosis. However, for a person living with dementia, their reality could be at any point in their life, from their lived timeline, and this can change day-to-day.

For the person living with dementia, their reality is that their mum and dad are alive. At that point, as the care partner, we have a few options. We could reality orientate, where we bring them back into our reality by stating “dad, you’re 90 and your parents passed away 35 years ago”. The risk of that method is that if the person is time travelling, orientating them and forcing them to come into a new reality may be distressing. Your other option is to step into their world and talk about his parents with him. If your dad is stuck in a reality where he is a young boy and his parents are still alive, step into his world, remain curious, ask him about his parents and the things he enjoys doing with them, and see it as an opportunity to engage with your dad.

Entering into a person’s reality is the ability to be present in what is real to them at that moment and not force them into our own reality, leaving them shamed and disorientated.”

How do I answer my mum when she says she needs to go home and make dinner for the kids?

“For a person living with dementia, time travel can be a reality for them. They may travel back in time to when their life involved different people and different responsibilities. At this point in time, a care partner has a few options. To travel back in time with your mum and say “come on let’s start making dinner for the kids” and start taking out things that can be prepared for dinner. This could be an opportunity to engage with them. Bring up positive memories and engage in the positive parts of their life and their kids.

The other school of thought is to force your mum into your own reality, which is the here and now, your kids are grown up and they don’t need you to cook dinner for them. This approach at times, can be distressing for the person, because in their mind, they have gone back in their long term memory to a time and place where they felt meaningful, relevant and purposeful. When looking at the situation, it’s important to look for their needs and find a way to fill those needs.”

If we can assist with answering any of your questions, please don’t hesitate to contact our Engagement Manager for support by clicking here. 

Is it time for care?

There is never a right or wrong answer to this question. Our “Question and Answers” are for people living with dementia and for the loved ones supporting them as they consider permanent care, residential aged care, home and community care or a nursing home. For more information about is it time for care please click here.

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