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Living with someone who has dementia is like the movie Groundhog Day. For those of you who haven’t seen this movie I recommend it as a reality check. Bill Murray plays Phil Connors, a weatherman, annoyed at having to report on Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney, yet again for the fourth year in a row. To his dismay he wakes up the following day and it is Groundhog Day again and again and again. The same events occur, the same conversations are had, the same people are present. As the main character Phil Connors says, “What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered?”. As Dementia care givers that question can really resonate.
- Do you feel stuck in the same place?
- Are your days the same?
- Does what you do matter?
I think we all can learn from Bill Murray’s character in this movie. After reliving the same day multiple times he decides to take advantage of his unique situation and build on it. Initially he cannot believe this repetitive day is happening and resists. When he eventually accepts that he will re-live the same day over and over. He uses the opportunity to acquire new skills – piano playing and ice carving among them, develops new relationships and soon becomes the most popular man in Punxsutawney. How many times he relives the same day is anyone’s guess. The important take away here is that he relives the day better each time once he accepts that it is happening.
Dementia is difficult to manage 24/7 when you have the same conversations day in and day out. Perhaps the thing to focus on is what you are doing better today than you did last year.
I vividly remember leading a support group where one woman stated that her husband tells her she is getting easier to live with. This very intelligent and very well-spoken woman, who had been married for over 50 years, stated with a grin on her face, “He only thinks that because I have learned not to argue or correct him, since it doesn’t work anyway. After all you can’t ever win an argument with someone who has Dementia. Now he finds me very agreeable!” She learned how to change her behavior to accommodate what he needed and lowered her own frustration by doing so. In my mind she always wins!
These are the things to focus on. In what ways have you as a caregiver have improved? The things you have learned since the diagnosis. The quality of life you give daily to the one you care for. Don’t underestimate what you get done – it is more than you can imagine. You are the key to their successful living day-to-day.
One of the blessings of repetitive conversations and activities is you always get an opportunity for a “do-over”. Take advantage of that. Make a promise to yourself to continually improve by trying new ways of doing things and new approaches to problems as they arise. Don’t focus on the “failures”, “mistakes” or problems, each one is a chance to make things better both for you and the loved one you are caring for.