Saturday, August 11, 2012

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

I heard on the news that a new survey indicated most people thought they looked better than they actually do. We have become a nation with the wicked queen attitude chanting, “Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, who is the fairest one of all?” No matter how beautiful you think you are there is a Snow White in everyone’s world.

In a way, you have to admire people with that much self confidence, but I can’t help but think about the ones that zoom in on their flaws. Anorexia can sometimes be blamed on the image a person sees when she looks into the mirror. She may be thin to the point of starvation and still see herself as an obese person.

Mirrors are not always our friends, especially for someone with Alzheimer’s. For a long time I didn’t truly understand how much trouble a mirror could be in a special care unit. Jim never seemed to have a problem with his mirror—in fact, he seldom looked in it. I combed his hair, washed his face, and shaved him, so he didn’t have any need for a mirror.

Then, one day as he passed in front of the mirror, he glanced into it. He started yelling, grabbed his head with both hands and rubbed his hair vigorously. Either he didn’t recognize himself or he was upset with the way he looked. We removed the mirror from his room.

Jim didn’t talk, but from conversations with other residents, it was obvious that most thought they were many years younger than their actual age. Most of the female residents in the unit flirted with Jim because he was the only one young enough to interest them. These women didn’t need a mirror to tell them they were young and good looking; they just knew it.

It is enough to make you wonder whether they see their image as a distortion of the real person they are inside. When a person has Alzheimer’s, it is possible that what they see is similar to what we see when we look into a funhouse mirror. Do you remember the short squat images, or the tall wavy reflections? In those cases, we could laugh because we knew it was not a true image of how we look. But what if instead of the familiar face we expected to see in a normal mirror, we saw the reflection of stranger? It would be like a horror movie come true.

Many Alzheimer’s units do not have mirrors in the rooms. If you take care of a person with dementia at home, you may have to cover or remove the mirrors.

No matter how we picture ourselves in our minds, we do recognize ourselves in the mirror. In the fairy tale, the wicked queen talked to the mirror, but I wonder what the mirror would say if it could talk back. In that extreme, she saw herself as the fairest of all. Some people focus on the negative when they look in the mirror. People with Alzheimer’s see strangers.

Copyright August 2012 by L. S. Fisher

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