“Your mother died twelve years ago.” “You are wrong, Tylenol is the same as Acetaminophen. It doesn’t matter.” “For the fifth time your doctor’s appointment is tomorrow at 10:00.” “I am your husband not your father.”
Do not say any of these things in response to a dementia patient’s questions or remarks.
It is so easy to get frustrated with someone who we love who has dementia. We remember them as vibrant adults who were more than capable of running a household, a division or a company. Now, they can’t remember their own telephone number or the names and relationships of their closest relatives. It is not their fault. They have a disease that is robbing them of their memory. Asking them to remember certain things or use logical understanding is equivalent to asking a paraplegic to walk. It is physically impossible.
The main thing is to acknowledge that you heard them, then redirect with another activity. Soon enough they will forget their original thought. You may need to repeat this pattern a few times. Also remember, you are almost never right. Even if you are right, they cannot understand your logic and will only get agitated and more confused.
Let’s look at potential scenarios and the correct response:
Dementia sufferer: “My mother is coming here after she picks up some groceries at the store.” Your response: ” She may be a while. While we wait for her let’s do a puzzle.” Asking for a parent may be a sign of stress and the thought of a parent brings comfort, so look for stressors that you can eliminate or lessen.
Dementia sufferer (insistent): “We can’t buy Acetaminophen. The doctor said to buy Tylenol.” Your response,: “Okay let’s buy Tylenol then.”
The dementia sufferer wraps her grandson’s birthday gift in an oven mitt. Your response: “Jim’s birthday isn’t until this weekend. I will put this gift away until then so it doesn’t get damaged.” You put it out of sight then wrap the gift later, without the dementia patient seeing that you are doing it. They will not remember when they give their grandson the gift that it is wrapped in something else.
Dementia sufferer: “When is my doctor’s appointment, when is my doctor’s appointment?” Your response: “You will see doctor Smith tomorrow at 10:00 a.m. I am going to write this on a note card for you to put in your pocket (or on a white board)”. The next time she asks, say, “Look in your pocket and read what the card says.”
Dementia sufferer: “Daddy, can you get me a glass of water?” Your response: “Are you thirsty? I can get you some water?” You may also say,” He’s at work now, but I can get you some water.”
You may notice that some of the responses involve lying. It is okay to lie (or fib) because you are acknowledging that person’s reality. If you deny that reality, it can make them agitated or sad. So essentially lying is a form of compassion in this case.
Living with someone with dementia is not easy. We are all human and not saints. If you feel you are getting too stressed out, try to take a break. Also seek help from relatives, friends or paid help to get away even for a few hours and take care of yourself. It will make a big difference in your stress level and reduce the anxiety the dementia sufferer feeling. You can also join a dementia caregiver support group through your local Alzheimer’s Association. Call the Helpline to be connected to your local group: 800-272-3900.