How to Be a Dementia Friend

by Olivia Todd

How-to guides contain illustrations.
A guy bent over a chair.
You can see his wife in the background
wringing her hair.
Cursing their choice to not use IKEA.
‘I told you you couldn’t do it!’

How-to guides have multiple rules
that end up merging like rivers.
Screw A lives next to Screw D, but not Screw B.
Screw B is nowhere to be seen.
The cellophane empty like his eyes.

How-to guides do not provide
a backup plan.
When the hot water bottle you made
is used to make a cup of sweet tea.
When her partner returns, pockets bulging.
Full of stolen chocolates from Thorntons.
Humorous husband turned mindless thief.
Purchases a safe
to store her shame and grief.

This how-to guide is not a remedy.
But it is a start.
Time to relearn the things you never knew.

How to be a Dementia Friend.

Step one: The sacred word is yes.
‘You’re my sister, Shelia.’
(You’re actually his wife.)
‘You work for the Government.’
(You work as a low-key civil servant.)

Step two: Embrace their wonderland.
Upon visiting you ask,
‘What did you have for dinner?’
‘Peanuts,’ is his confident reply.
To deny this is to deny their truth.
To deny their truth leads to frustration.
There is no need to challenge, just smile.

Step Three: Reinvent yourself as a saint.
They cannot help being broken records.
Like children who can never satisfy
their ignited curiosity,
they cannot stop their urge to repeat.
‘Do you want a cup of tea, She?’
‘Do you want a cup of tea, She?’
‘Shall I put my socks on?’
‘Okay…’
‘Shall I put my socks on?’

Step four: Indiana Jones eat your heart out.
Many of them will become wanderers.
They will walk for miles with no water.
If you meet such a traveller, stay calm.
If waiting for assistance, ask
open-ended questions about their past.
See how they light up from the inside out.
Cherish the stories as if you know them.

Final step: Always listen.
No matter how tiring your day,
if you have someone with dementia
living at home,
sit down and talk to them.
Buried underneath all the gibberish
and fragmented phrases,
behind the foggy eyes and neutral mouth
is the person you once and still love.
And this guide does not want you to miss
any opportunity to meet them
again.