Don’t Contradict the Person with Dementia

I am glad to see that a lot of dementia communities are seeing the importance of not contradicting people with dementia. There are a lot of ways to say this but my favorite is my brother’s. When our mom (who had dementia) was still alive he would always say, “You need to live in her world.” Let me give some examples of how we did this with our mom.

In order for my examples to make sense, I will give you a bit of Mom’s history. She and dad retired at our family’s summer lake home and would travel to their condo in Florida during the winter. After Dad died and her dementia had progressed, she spent all of her time in Minnesota so my brother could take care of her.

When I would call Mom I would usually start a conversation about the weather because this was one of the topics that she loved to talk about. (Weather is a big topic of discussion in Minnesota.) One day during the winter, after I told her that in Tucson it was nice and sunny, she said, “Well it’s not nice and sunny in Florida; it is actually snowing!” Then she went on about how unusual it is that Florida was having snow. I knew she was in Minnesota, but I never corrected her. As far as she was concerned she was at their condo in Florida. I thought it was amazing that she was focused on the oddity of it snowing in Florida, but as she looked out at the snow on the lake outside her window, she could not see herself as being in Minnesota.

While training in England with Penny Garner, I got to observe a person with dementia being transitioned into a memory care facility, so of course I was the logical choice to transition our mom into a memory care unit. I stayed with Mom the first three days of her transition, ensuring that she stayed contented. During that time, she would say of her new room in the care facility, “Isn’t this a nice condo? You know your brother Jeri bought it for me!” The majority of the time she thought she was in a nice new condo (which she loved and was very proud of how it was decorated), and I did not contradict her; in fact I built on what she said. I would answer, “Yes, this is a lovely condo, Jeri did a great job I also said many times how nice and warm it was (she loved being toasty warm). I would admire how everything matched and point out what a lovely view she had from her window. Seeing her so happy and proud in her “condo” warmed my heart. What difference did it make that it was actually a room in a care facility? If she was happy and proud, I wasn’t about to shake her reality.

Here is one of my favorite memories of my mom: A few months after I transitioned her to the memory care facility I went up to Minnesota to check on her. During my visit I realized just how happy Mom was. She didn’t know Dad died because his death happened late enough into her dementia journey that she never took in the fact of his death. I learned never to contradict her when she said something about Dad coming home soon. It would only have made her unhappy. She just expected my dad to walk through her door at any time, and she was happy in that expectation. As I reflect on that day, I am comforted to know that because I didn’t contradict her by explaining that Dad was dead and he wouldn’t be coming home, and instead just let her live contentedly in “her world,” it definitely created a safe haven for her and kept her at peace.

I would love to hear stories from others with loved ones who had or have dementia and how they joined their loved one to “live in their world.”




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