Never Say This to Someone with Dementia or Alzheimer’s

Awaking to a confused weather pattern was not of out the norm. The yellow haze from the sun was at war with the ruthless Napa fog. A rather familiar scene that assured me the sun would win this battle.

It was 1996 and my father had suddenly passed away the year prior.

My grandfather was still living and losing his only son in the prime of his golden years brought unwelcome mental and health issues into his once blissful life. After his son, my father, was swiftly taken from us, life drastically changed in different ways for us all.

For my grandfather, we noticed his memory began to take a downward spiral; toward an almost dead zone. This once vibrant man, although elderly, still had his wits about him before Dad died, but now he was beginning to show signs of a bleak predator knocking on his door.

It was the first holiday that Grandpa had visited us after my father passed. We chatted in the same familiar family room, munching on Chex mix and reminiscing of the good ole’ days. His hands wiggled and fidgeted from his lap to his side when he gazed at my father’s recliner with the hair oil stains still evident on his head rest.

“Where’s Larry?”

Instantly I gazed at my mother with a loss for words, searching for a response that would comfort his tainted mind and gentle soul. Mom gently changed the subject as he seemed to almost support the odd distraction.

To our delight, Grandpa’s curiosity of my father’s presence never came up again during this visit.

It was now a couple months later when we received the unfortunate news that my grandfather had pulled a gun on his daughter after she entered the home they shared. Being he did not recognize his own daughter, his first instinct was to protect himself from the “intruder.”

It was in that moment we all agreed Grandpa needed an immediate medical diagnosis as the dreaded disease reared its ugly head. That same month Grandpa was diagnosed with an early onset of Alzheimer’s; marked by symptoms of dementia, which grew increasingly worse. We gathered mountains of information about the disease, being most grateful for the opportunity to spend time with Grandpa and understand the condition doesn’t change who they are. The positive information that remains vivid in my mind is what NOT to say to someone with Alzheimer’s disease.

“I Already Told You…”

Be prepared to repeat conversations with your loved one but acknowledge that telling them that you already told them something will only confuse and hurt them more.

Avoid Open-Ended Questions

“Where do you want to go? What would you like to eat?  And similar questions that may require your loved one to remember favorite places or foods. Try not to put them in a position to recall something they can’t.

Try instead to ask a question that requires a yes or no response – such as “Would you like some fruit?”

Distract Rather Than Disagree

If your elderly loved one shares an incorrect statement, it is important not to draw attention to their inaccurate comment.

Instead of arguing with them, change the subject to a more pleasant conversation.

They Passed Away

Depending on the person, there is no right or wrong response when a loved one forgets a family member has passed on. They may not even believe you and the blow can be traumatic to them all over again. Instead, change the topic or the conversation.

In the event they outright ask you if a loved has died, it is best to be truthful. The decision of how to respond is ultimately what you feel is best in that moment.

I was humored to learn that my mother was the only person Grandpa never forgot. He consistently remembered who she was.

After one of our heartwarming visits with Grandpa, I turned to my mom and asked, “How does it feel to be unforgettable?”

She just smiled as we watched him wave to us from the hallway at his senior living home.

One sweet day at a time.

Lori Armstrong

Lori began her career in the legal field, leaving that position to pursue full-time writing endeavors. Being a criminal court reporter for the Record-Bee, she balances the chaos in her brain by writing children's books and reflective pieces. When time allows, she publishes books for Amazon.

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