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Navigating With Humor: “Maybe Your Brain Just Didn’t Update That File”

Today as we were leaving my grandma's after putting up some new hummingbird decals on her window, I glanced down at her empty plant stand to find a tiny Minnie Mouse plushie. I laughed as I picked it up and asked if my cousin's 2-year-old daughter was responsible, thinking she would regale me with some sort of story from an earlier visit.

Instead, I got a less-expected response.

The missing things

I've written before about how my grandma's things that were going "missing" had improved since she moved into her assisted living unit a year ago - there are fewer things, there isn't a basement and garage for things to get put in, and a lot of stuff is where she can see it, which has all proven to be good.

There have been a few moments, but usually, they can be sorted out quite easily! Last week, she called my mom that her broom was missing. My mom suggested a few places to look, and when it wasn't appearing, my mom just said, "Well, what kind of broom was it? Was there anything special about it?" Trying to get context if this was perhaps a specific but old broom from the vault of memories.

The vanishing broom

Apparently, no, it was just a normal one. I hear from down the hall in a humorous manner, "Well, did you have any emotional attachment to that broom?" And a pause followed by, "Okay, well, how about we just pick you up another one from the dollar store then? And if it shows up, it shows up!"

Missing Minnie Mouse

Today, when I asked her about the little Minnie Mouse, the response was, "Well, you know, I had another one, but it's gone somewhere."

I hadn't even looked in her room, but I knew there was almost always a Minnie Mouse and often a Simba plushie on her bed. "Hm... That one usually is on your bed, isn't it?" I said as I contorted myself to look into her bedroom.
Sure enough, it was there.

"Well," she told me, "It wasn't there earlier. Maybe someone came in and put it back when I was in the hall."

To reason or not to reason

I have read that reasoning about these things is not always the best approach, and it can be better to let things slide or shift the topic.

My grandma is very aware of what's happening with her mind and is open to others about her dementia. She didn't seem too agitated about it once she knew everything was in its place. So, I tried to lighten the situation - and it worked.

"I wonder if you moved it when you were making your bed this morning and put it down somewhere else, like on the table. Then maybe your brain 'took a picture of your bed without it on there, and then when you put it back, maybe your brain just didn't update that file! Or didn't put the file in the right spot!"

She and my mom laughed, "Well, we know my brain does mysterious things," my grandma said with a playful punch.

"That's a good one. Maybe the file just didn't get updated! We'll have to remember that one!" My mom added.

The moments where humor can help!

I'm sure we've all experienced when approaching a situation with a loved one with Alzheimer's disease how humor in the right places can diffuse the situation or prevent one if it is used at just the right time.

While Alzheimer's disease is a scary process, and even more so for the person experiencing it, we've also found it helpful to remind my grandma when we make mistakes and forget things or have trouble remembering certain information. Not in a way that minimizes her challenges, but to remind her that some forgetfulness is normal and, mostly, not to stress over it since we will be there to make sure the important things she needs or wants to do get taken care of.

If we can lighten the mood or prevent a conversation from hitting a dark spiral with a little quip about the file not getting updated and have a laugh together, well, I'd say that's a pretty good solution!

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