Running errands with someone who has dementia can be very trying. There are two things you can do to make it easier, though. And it really doesn’t matter where it is you need to go – the grocery store, the bank, the hardware store, the insurance company – you can avoid behaviors and have a companionable time if you just help your loved one or client get what they need from the experience: sensory and social stimulation.

Here, using the DAWN Method, we have found two secrets to having a good time in the community with someone experiencing dementia: (1) be sure your focus is on the person, not the task; and (2) search out the beautiful. This may sound a little strange, so let me explain.

Focus on the person not the task.

As people progress deeper into dementia, the ability to track the passage of time – or imagine how much time has passed – will fade. They become increasingly limited to what is called the psychological present. Psychologist Daniel Kahneman says it is about 3 seconds. Without the ability to use rational thought functions such as planning or foresight, or the ability to grasp cause and effect, someone with dementia is living in a present that can feel like it lasts an eternity.

What this means for us, as caregivers, is that it becomes essential that our loved ones and clients perceive us to be focused on them, not on a task or deadline. If our goal is to have a good time with them, their experience will be that of doing something enjoyable with a person who loves them. If our goal is to run an errand or meet a deadline, their experience will be abandonment and disempowerment. When the latter happens, caregivers get behaviors.

Here at DAWN, we have found that if we are communicating to our clients that we enjoy being them, we can accomplish any task more easily.

It may seem counter intuitive, but focusing on your loved one or client is your best chance to succeed at running an errand, making a deadline, or accomplishing a task.

Search out the beautiful.

It’s here. It’s there. It’s everywhere. If you’re looking, there is beauty at every turn. The florist department may seem like the only place to find something pretty in a grocery store, but if you’re in the produce department, pick up any piece of fruit and look. It’s colorful, intricate and if not beautiful at least interesting, if you really look. Are you searching for a particular variety of soup? Look closely at the labels; the photos on cans and boxes are often pleasing to the eye. Are you shopping for cheese? The shiny red packaging of a gouda or bright orange of cheddar is very appealing.

Look for colors and patterns, good smells and textures. In a hardware store there are a myriad of sights and smells – displays of paint chips and bins of drawer pulls. In offices, there are calendars, plants on people’s desks, interesting gadgets. Just be on the lookout for something that will provide your loved one or client with new sensory stimuli.

Treat every errand as a treasure hunt – a search for something new or pleasing. Our loved ones and clients still have the ability to recognize beauty. We can enjoy it with them. And, when we do, errands become opportunities for companionship.


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