As Alzheimer's causes more brain cells to die, it takes away the individual’s judgment and ability to reason that the image in front of them is his or her own reflection.
Mirrors or reflective surfaces can cause a great deal of uneasiness for those with Alzheimer’s disease because they don’t understand they are seeing a reflected image of themselves. A mirror presents an unknown person, perhaps someone from an earlier period of life, a younger version of the person or even a stalker or someone threatening from the past.
Affected individuals will resist attempts by the caregiver to calm or reassure them and tasks like bathing become particularly challenging because they see the presence of a “stranger” in the room.
If the individual’s self-image in the mirror doesn’t scare or intimidate them, the affected individual may visualize a “friend” and start talking to this imaginary person. This is usually harmless.
Unless it causes anxiety or frustration, allow the affected person to continue talking to that person in the mirror. It can assist in communication skills. Additionally, during this friendly dialogue, the caregiver may want to interject some conversation, too, as it is an opportunity to prompt some recollection of the past or even answer some lingering questions for the caregiver.
If mirrors cause too much anxiety and agitation, they should be removed or covered. Wall-mounted mirrors can be draped with a large cloth or towel or covered with decorative drapes like a window. There are a variety of scenic posters that can be used to conceal a mirror and/or special adhesive window film can be used to create a stained-glass effect.
Additionally, substantial glare in the room can cause reflections and produce fearful images for the affected individuals. The environment should be checked for adequate lighting and times of the day when glares or shadows are apparent in various areas. Drawing all window drapes in the care setting before the sun sets is a helpful strategy to avoid anxious or irritated outbursts from the affected individual who may experience reflective images or hallucinations during that time.