I met him about a month before the election. He was confused. He spoke only about three things:
(1) his best friend, with love and affection
(2) his culinary skills, with pride and wistfulness
(3) Donald Trump, with exasperation and anger
“When’s the last time you and I spoke?” I asked.
“Uh, I don’t know… maybe a few days ago?” he guessed.
I had stepped away for only ten minutes.
In the weeks leading up to the election, I introduced myself each time. Each time he said that we had talked “just a few days ago”. At the end of each conversation, he extended his hand and said, “It was so nice to meet you!”
After repeating the ingredients of his prize-winning chile cocoa tacos (“cocoa powder! cumin! cinammon!”), he lurched into politics.
“Donald Trump! We can’t have Donald Trump! He’s not a good man. I won’t be voting for Trump! Not a good man. Not a good man.”
Sometimes he would lurch back into prize-winning chile cocoa tacos; sometimes he would express his appreciation for his best friend (“I just want to see him again… when am I going to see him again?”). Sometimes he would look at me, pause, and then start talking about Bruce Lee.[1. I can’t tell you how many times people with psychotic or cognitive disorders look at me and then start talking about Bruce Lee. Sometimes they tell me I look like Bruce Lee’s sister. (I don’t look like him.) Sometimes they ask me if I know kung fu like Bruce Lee. Sometimes they speak highly of his films.]
Days after the newspapers splashed the results of Presidential election all over their front pages, we met again.
“Hi, I’m Dr. Yang.”
“Hi! It’s so nice to meet you. How are you doing?”
“I’m doing okay. How are you?”
“Donald Trump is ahead, can you believe it? I thought Hillary would be ahead by a lot, but Trump is ahead! Can you believe it?”
“Do you know who won the election?”
“It’s not over yet, they’re not done counting the votes. But Trump is ahead! I can’t believe it! I thought Hillary would be ahead by a lot—”
“Is the election over?”
“No, it’s not over yet, they’re not done counting the votes. But Trump is ahead. Can you believe it? Hillary still has a chance—”
“When is the election supposed to be over?”
“I don’t know, but Trump is ahead! Can you believe it? ”
One of the best things you can do for someone with memory problems is tell them information about “now”. Remind him what the date is. Tell him what time of day it is. Point out the seasons, talk about the city he’s in. Tell him who the President-elect is.
I looked at him as he continued to talk about the election. He still had hope.
I inhaled, smiled, and interjected, “So, you used to be a cook, right?”
“What? Oh, yes! I won a prize for chile cocoa tacos….”