A close friend was recently placed in a memory care unit by her family. I would like to visit her but feel uncomfortable. I don’t know what to say or do with her. Please help me.
— Gone Missing
Dearie: I keep hearing about memory care units. You know some of our family friends have had to go to one of these. It’s happening a lot, isn’t it? I hope that never happens to me.
Barbara: Mama, first of all, we call it “placing” or even better is to say, “She moved into a memory care unit.” But, Mama, what are you worried about?
Dearie: I’m worried, like everyone else, about getting Alzheimer’s and having to go to one of those places.
Barbara: Yup, a lot of care facilities are popping up. It’s because people are living so much longer and you know, the longer you live, the greater the likelihood you will develop memory problems.
Dearie: I hope you don’t ever have to take care of me in that way.
Barbara: I don’t know, mama, looks to me like you’re doing ok for now. I wouldn’t worry, but I can’t make any promises. And if I start to see any problems, I’ll let you know. That’s really the best thing, to be honest about the changes I might see. But if you were in a memory care unit, wouldn’t you like to have visitors? Wouldn’t you like to know that your friends still care and are interested in you? That’s really what this person is asking.
Dearie: I don’t know. It seems that when you have Alzheimer’s you’re not the same person. And there are such horrible stories.
Barbara: Those horror stories are sort of old, dementia care has changed a lot. There’s a lot of good care happening now. We’ve learned a lot about dementia and how to communicate better. How much time have you ever spent with someone who has dementia? Have you ever visited anyone in a memory care unit? Do you want to go on a visit, I’ll go with you. I’m beginning to feel a little like the mother here.
Dearie: Well, there are things you know about and you are helping me. I’ve never been to a dementia care place. It’s hard to admit, but I am a little afraid.
Barbara: You sound just like this woman who’s asking the question. There’s nothing to be afraid of, it is a different way to be with someone but the most important thing is to just be in the moment, don’t argue and try not to say “Remember?”
Dearie: But what if she doesn’t know who I am?
Barbara: Does that really matter. Isn’t the best part of being a friend to be able to give what your friend needs at the time. Maybe the best she needs now is holding hands or taking a short walk.