Rachael Wonderlin ’11 spent hours as a teen volunteering at a skilled nursing facility. One day, a friend remarked she had a gift for working with older adults.
Rachael Wonderlin ’11, a renowned dementia care consultant and author, returns to UMW as the 2021 Psychology Graduate-in-Residence.
“I didn’t realize at the time that this was a skill,” said Wonderlin, who channeled her talents into a psychology degree from the University of Mary Washington and a master’s in gerontology.
Now a renowned dementia care consultant and author who has taught her trademarked technique to senior living communities worldwide, Wonderlin has been named the UMW Department of Psychology’s 2021 graduate-in-residence. On Thursday, she’ll present a free, public lecture entitled “Everything You Need to Know About Dementia Caregiving Communication” in the Hurley Convergence Center at 4 p.m.
Wonderlin, who grew up in New Jersey, came to Mary Washington with plans to pursue a career in medicine, but a Psychology of Aging course changed her mind.
“I always loved working with older adults,” said Wonderlin, who created an “Adopt a Grandparent” program through UMW’s Community Outreach and Resources, or COAR, planning activities for local residents at skilled nursing facilities.
After earning a master’s degree from University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Wonderlin worked at several dementia care communities, where she discovered that traditional ways of communicating felt outdated and often confused those living with cognitive impairment. Instead, she developed her own technique – called Embracing Their Reality – which encourages caregivers to meet people with dementia where they are.
Wonderlin has written two books on dementia care published by Johns Hopkins University Press; a third is due out this winter.
“For example, someone asks, ‘Where’s my mom?’ and you know that she passed away years earlier,” she said. “Rather than correcting the person, you’d reply, ‘Where do you think she is?’ Whatever they say is the right answer.” Wonderlin’s clients say the method has led to breakthroughs with their loved ones and residents.
She has created a blog, YouTube channel and podcast to share her experiences and educate caregivers, and written two books on dementia care published by Johns Hopkins University Press; a third is due out this winter. She also launched Dementia by Day, a consulting business to help senior living …….