People often assume they can’t work with others who have other ideas, as though the thoughts a brain thinks change what a body and mind and soul need. In reality, back in WWII Maslow identified what we all really need and we all share those needs.
It’s crazy to say we can’t work with competing ideologies when there’s others of us who are dealing with someone with Alzheimer’s. My Mom’s reality is often wildly different than mine or Dad’s. But just like with anyone else, the best approach is just to meet the person where they are.
If we won’t relax into that cooperative headspace, we can easily waste valuable lifetime just trying to temporarily get them to reconcile their reality with ours when there’s no need to do that.
The truth is, we can’t even reconcile our reality with people without Alzheimer’s. And we don’t even need them reconciled as long as we can make things happen. With Mom or anyone like her, the route we take can be mostly mine or mostly hers. And as long as we get there, I have found her routes are often more fun.
This week she’s building stuff off of a new central idea she’s developed, likely from some TV show. So when I came in from taking out the garbage, she asked me if I could drive her to the hotel she owns in St. Louis.
I said “sure.” It’s important to note at this point that my parents lead a very modest life and Mom’s never been to St. Louis.
If her central idea is about leaving (big surprise during a pandemic), and I need her to stay put due to the pandemic, I can still be in her reality with the St. Louis hotel. But I can add in some Apollo 13 we re-watched the night before. So I can say something like, “Oh, wait. We can’t go tonight. Isn’t tonight when that astronaut is coming by to talk to us?”
And Mom will remember the movie, combine it with what I said, and she’ll wince. “Oh. I forgot about him.”
“He said it did have to be tonight.”
“Shoot. Oh well. Okay. Can I stay here tonight? Then I can go tomorrow.”
“No problem Mom. You’re always welcome. We’ll do a brunch tomorrow and I’ll take you to the airport afterwards.”
“Oh thank goodness. I couldn’t find the phone book to call a cab so I couldn’t figure out how I was going to get to the airport.”
“Well you don’t have to worry anymore. I’ll get you there.”
And that’s all good, because in 20 minutes Mom’s completely forgotten the whole idea. But in the meantime she went from stressed to relieved. Relief feels pretty nice. Of course sometimes she does get mad at me, but I reduce the number of times that happens by just meeting her where she is.
That’s what we should pay attention to in life. It’s not what we ‘think is important.’ It should be, what ‘works.’ Because when tackling any issue, a lot of life can be spent battling to be right, when we would have been far more successful if we just relaxed our way out of any battle over ideologies that never needed to be reconciled anyway.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.