It Could Always Be Worse in Dementialand

Sometimes in life you need a little bit of perspective. And sometimes people say just the right thing at just the right time.

I was having a bad day. I could list the things I was struggling with–a few bigger things and a lot of inconsequential things–but I won’t. I’ll just say that I wanted to go home and take a nap…for about a week.

But I couldn’t. I had scheduled an activity with some people who had dementia. As I drove up to the building, I didn’t really want to go in. I was going to have to fake enthusiasm because I sure wasn’t feeling it that day. I slapped on a smile that was not the least bit genuine and buzzed my way in.

One of my favorite friends with dementia (and favorite people, for that matter), who I will call Oliver, was quieter than usual. As I was leaving, I asked him if he was okay.

He told me that he had experienced a minor stroke recently and injured his ribs in a fall while recovering.  Because he wasn’t able to move around much, he developed a pressure sore on his hip. This pressure sore became really painful and infected. While on antibiotics for the infection, he developed oral thrush. He also mentioned that he was struggling with some ongoing complications of diabetes. Oh, and he had prostate cancer–but he’d had that for several years.

Oliver had early stage dementia, and I found myself hoping that perhaps he had confabulated at least part of this tale. Nope. An employee stood behind him and nodded, confirming his story.

“I am so sorry you are dealing with all of this. It sounds like you’re having a rough time,” I said.

Oliver responded, “It’s not that bad. At least I don’t have acid reflux.”

I must have shot him a funny look because he restated his point.

“It could be worse. I could have acid reflux,” he said.

I wasn’t sure what acid reflux had to do with anything, so I asked, “Do you get acid reflux a lot?”

This time he gave me a funny look.

“No,” he responded. “Why do you ask?”

I shrugged. I guess it didn’t really matter. The guy was just grateful that he didn’t have acid reflux. He might have cancer, diabetes, thrush, an infected pressure sore, and injured ribs, but he did not have acid reflux. If could be thankful for that, I should stop asking questions.

I left that day thinking I had 99 problems but acid reflux wasn’t one. If Oliver could recognize that his situation could be worse, I could certainly realize that my situation could be worse.

I’ve developed a coping strategy, thanks to Oliver. And it’s an effective one for me. Whenever I’m having a rough day, I think of one bad thing that I am not experiencing. I know that this sounds ridiculous, but sometimes it’s so ridiculous that I have to stop and smile.

I remind myself that things could be worse–and then I come up with one way in which things could be worse. I could have accidentally burned down the house by leaving on the space heater. I could have backed into the garbage can on the way out of the garage. Or I could have leprosy. If you stop and think about all the things that have gone right which could have gone wrong, you realize that a lot of things have gone right.

Then next time you are having a bad day, complete this sentence: It’s not that bad. At least I _______.

If you can’t come up with anything better, fill in the blank with “don’t have acid reflux.”

Unless, obviously, you do have acid reflux–in which case you will have to come up with something else.


5 thoughts on “It Could Always Be Worse in Dementialand

  1. I live by that same belief everyday. It doesn’t mask my dementia but it puts things into perspective. There is always someone dealing with much worse and though my “bumps” can be game changers, they are still only bumps – I am grateful with all I have, as I don’t have “diabetes”! (I have acid reflux so had to substitute. 🙂 Thank you again. I look forward to all your blogs.


    1. Thank you. I question being an inspiration as I feel very weak most days. Wish I could do more than just write. Waiting for that “moment to help more somewhere, somehow” 🙂


  2. I love this one, Elaine! After having lived for 30+ years with a man who broke his neck at 19 and rarely complains, I have often reminded myself (when having a pity party) that “it could be worse!” And when I’m around somebody else who’s having their OWN pity party, I remind them of the same thing. Some of them get it, and some don’t…oh, well.


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