Conversing with Dementia: A Play in One Scene

Setting: A large dining room on a dementia unit. Spotlight is on a table against the wall with three chairs, occupied by Ken, an octogenarian man wearing a hat, Mariann, an octogenarian woman, and Beth, a middle-aged woman.

Mariann: (Looks at Beth.) I didn’t know you were coming today!
Beth: I know, Mom. I didn’t tell you.
Mariann: (Beams.) You rascal! (Glances toward Ken): This is my daughter!
Ken: Well, excuse my expression, but “Wow.”
Marian: (Looks at Beth.) What did he say?
Beth: He said, “Wow.”
Mariann: “Wow?” Oh boy. (Points at Ken’s hat.) Hey Bethie, did you see his hat?
Beth: It’s a very nice hat.
Ken: Hmmm?
Mariann: Your hat. (Ken takes it off and places it on the table.)
Beth: (Reaches into her bag and takes out a small color photograph.) Hey Mom, I have something for you.
Mariann: (Looks at the photo.) Oh, how nice!
Beth: Yes, it’s Kathy, Kristen and Kaitlin. On their cruise.
Ken: (Nodding.) Very interesting.  I have a question. Did you ever do … (mumbling) Hart and Hurst?
Mariann: (Looking at Beth.) What did he say?
Beth: Something about Hart and Hurst.
Mariann: What’s that?
Beth: Must be a company.
Mariann: Oh. (Shrugs and throws up her hands.)
Ken: It’s a funny thing … so and from … absolutely. Those are the words.
(The two women look at each other, puzzled. They shrug. They turn to Ken and nod, slowly.)
Mariann: (Looking down at the table.) What’s this? Oh, what a nice picture!
Beth: Yes, I brought it for you. That’s your daughter, Kathy, and your granddaughters, Kristen and Kaitlin.
Mariann: Kristen and … Kaitlin?
Beth: Yes.
Mariann: (Shows the photo to Ken.) Look at this picture!
Ken: (Takes the photo in his hand.) Oh, yes.
Mariann: Those are (struggling to find the words) … oh… isn’t it terrible when you can’t even remember your own sisters’ names?
Beth: Um, no Mom, those are your daughter and granddaughters.
Mariann: (Puzzled.) My daughter and granddaughters?
Beth: Yes. Your daughter, Kathy, and her daughters, Kristen and Kaitlin.
Mariann: Oh, how nice!
Ken: (Still holding the photo.) I say, that is very top-notch. (Hands the photo back to Mariann.)
(Ken nods, then starts to nod off.)
Mariann: (Speaking to Ken.) Now, don’t fall asleep! (Speaking to Beth.) He does this a lot.
Beth: Maybe he’s tired.
Mariann: Oh, no. What would he be tired for? (Looks at the table and sees the hat.) Who’s hat is that?
Beth: Um, it’s Ken’s.
Mariann: (Reaches over, picks up the hat, and puts it on her head, so it’s covering her eyes.) Let’s see what he says when he sees me.
(Silence. Ken continues to sleep. Mariann takes the hat off.)
Mariann: (Looking down at the table.) Oh, look at this picture!
Beth: Yes, Mom. I brought that for you.
Mariann: Who are they?
Beth: Your daughter and granddaughters.
Mariann: Oh, yes. That’s Kathy … and (pointing at Kristen) … you … and who’s that little one?
Beth: Kaitlin. But that’s not me. It’s Kristen.
Mariann: Kristen!? Oh, I’m confused. (Speaking to Ken.) Hey, wake up over there.
Ken: (Opens his eyes.) Let me ask you a question. What was … the international lawsuit?
Mariann: There was a national lawsuit? (Looks at Ken, then at Beth.)
Beth: Um, I don’t know, Mom.
Ken: Okay, okay, I’ll accept that. Very good.
Mariann: (whispering to Beth.) Do you know what he’s talking about?
Beth: (whispering) No.
Mariann: (Looking down at the table.) Oh, what a nice picture!
Beth: I brought it for you.
Mariann: Who are they? My daughters?
Beth: No, just one is.
Mariann: I only have one daughter?
Beth: No, you have three. But there’s only one in the picture. The other two are your granddaughters.
Mariann: (Speaking to Ken.) Hey, take a look at this picture. (She hands it to him.)
Ken: Oh, nice. (He hands the photo back to Mariann.)
Mariann: (Pointing to Kaitlin.) Who’s that one?
Beth: Kaitlin.
Ken: (Nodding.) Oh yes, Kaitlin is one … of those two … little places.
Mariann: (Pointing at Kaitlin in the photo.) No, that’s Kaitlin. (Pointing at Kathy in the photo.) Who’s that?
Beth: Kathy.
Mariann: Who’s Kathy? My daughter, isn’t she?
Beth: Yes.
Ken: Is she expensive?
Mariann: Hmmm, I don’t know. She does have a lot of clothes! (Pointing at Kristen in the photo and speaking to Beth.) Who’s this one–you?
Beth: No, Kristen.
Mariann: Oh, Kristen!
Ken: Okay, I want to discuss something right here. (Positioning his hand over his dinner plate.) It was well apportioned (mumble, mumble). There was this… and there was that. What do you think about that?
Beth: Um, I don’t really know.
Mariann: (Looking down at the table.) Hey where did that hat come from? And look at that picture — did you see it, Beth? It’s beautiful.
Beth: (Sighing.) I think I need to be getting home now.
Mariann: Oh, no! I thought you were going to stay the night!
Beth: Next time, Mom. I promise.
Mariann: Okay, sweetie. I love you. (Leans over and kisses Beth on the cheek.)
Beth: Love you, too. Mom. (Looking at Ken and getting up.) Bye, Ken!
Ken: Well let me just say that was really, really, really solid, and very frankly the next one you run off is going to be really good.

Note: I’ll be taking a short break from this blog while I work on another writing project this summer. Look for my next post in the fall. Thank you so much for reading!

About daughter3

My mom has Alzheimer's disease. She's 91 and lives in a nursing home. She has three daughters. I'm her youngest.
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11 Responses to Conversing with Dementia: A Play in One Scene

  1. Michelle Seymour says:

    Beth, you have the patience of a saint. I can’t imagine having that kind of conversation every time! I hope your mom is comfortable and not in any pain, and that you get to do something fun for yourself soon. :-). Thank you for sharing these experiences with your mom, it has definitely given me new sensitivity to the impact of Alzheimer’s.


    • daughter3 says:

      Thanks, Michelle! I really appreciate your support. Yes, my mom is pretty comfortable and happy much of the time (or at least that’s how she appears). I’m grateful she doesn’t seem to be in the kind of emotional pain I see in other people. I’m hoping she stays that way.

  2. They say that one out of every two people who reach the age of 85 will develop dementia. I hope and pray that your posts will help to disclose the intense pain of “The Long Goodbye”. Replacing the pain with acceptance……must also be a very long and heart-wrenching process. Yes, we are all grateful that your Mom is so well cared for….and that you have the strength, patience, perseverence, and love to endure it. I pray that you will take comfort in knowing you have been, and continue to be, a daughter who would make ANY mom proud.

    • daughter3 says:

      Thank you, Ms. Rung! I hope my mom can be as happy as she is now for as long as she’s alive. And I hope the researchers find something to make this disease less horrible for people.

  3. Megan says:

    Beth, You are the Roz Chast of bloggers. I’ll miss these. Megan

  4. daughter3 says:

    Thanks, Megan! I’ll be back in September!

  5. JodiMelsness says:

    Good luck Beth!


  6. curvyroads says:

    Hi Beth, I just found your blog today, searching since my mom also has Alzheimer’s and is in a facility. I have lived this conversation so many times in the almost two years she has been here. I don’t primarily blog about Mom, but I do occasionally. I am thinking about starting a separate blog about that topic, so that is why I was searching. Anyway, I feel for you and share so many of the same feelings and concerns that I have seen here. Good luck to you and I look forward to reading your future posts too. Lynne @

    • daughter3 says:

      Hi Lynne, Thank you so much for your comments. I’m sorry you have to go through this with your mom also. It’s so hard. My mom was diagnosed in 2010. Please let me know if you do decide to blog about your experience. Id like to read it. Thank you! Beth

      • curvyroads says:

        I am sorry for you as well. We have to get through the hard stuff, and laugh when we can. My mom was diagnosed in 2012, but I had serious concerns about her memory and ability to live alone at least a year before that. I think I will start with that when I do start my new blog, which I created, but I just haven’t had time to get anything out there yet. For future reference, it is and I will come back and let you know when I get some words out there. 🙂 Take care in the meantime, Lynne

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