When a person with dementia no longer recognizes their reflection in a mirror, they often become fearful thinking there’s a stranger in the house.
I never thought I would live to the ripe old age of seventy-one and yet, here I am and still feeling young on the inside. Older people with dementia are no different. They aren’t aware of aging and perceive themselves as being younger. The difference is despite how I feel, I’m consciously aware I’ve grown older; they aren’t.
I looked in the mirror today and wondered, “Who is that old woman?” I tend to avoid mirrors these days and don’t own a full length one. Oh, it isn’t as much about vanity as it is the uncomfortable feeling I get when that aging stranger looks back.
As dementia progresses mirrors can become frightening. Finding a strange person in your bathroom can be frightening and create a phobia about using the bathroom. This happens usually around the time they are beginning to lose a sense of self.
An interesting fact about self-perception has to do with child development and mirrors. When a baby looks at their reflection in the mirror and thinks it’s another baby, it’s because they haven’t yet developed an individuality separate from their environment. When they recognize their reflection as themselves, they are beginning to develop a sense of self; their own identity.
The opposite happens when a person with dementia looks in the mirror and thinks it’s another person; they are losing a sense of self. They are returning to being one with everything around them and affected by it.
This is part of the reason sensory overload is so common and why they are affected by the moods of those around them. They can’t separate themselves from the environment or those in it.
That’s one of the reasons those caring for them must be aware of keeping a peaceful environment and presenting to them the mood you want them to reflect.