Have you ever walked into a crowded elevator and had the awkward trying-to-reach-it-yourself-slash-hoping-someone-steps-up-to-push-the-button encounter? You know.. the cute, “Which floor?” that’s often followed by small talk or a joke about how cramped it is? Aside from the occasional fumbling, it’s usually pretty painless. This morning wasn’t one of those times.
Just before lunch, a man visited Il Sogno on his in-laws’ behalf. We chatted for a while before touring the community and meeting some nurses and residents. As we made our way upstairs, one of my loves joined us in the elevator. I asked which floor she was heading to, to which she replied without hesitation “the basement.” Va bene! From the ground level, the three of us cheerfully went up to 2. My visitor was confused; “What’s in the basement?”
Not only do we not have a basement, we apparently do have crazy sales managers (sono io!). Once we were alone, I explained the reasoning behind my acquiescent response. In even the earlier stages of dementia, reality orientation can be distorted and words confused. A second floor apartment could be mistaken for a lower level’s. Not bad, right? We can politely correct the mix-up and move on? Nope. Per favore, don’t do that. There are a few reasons why:
- You will not win that battle. I’ve posted about this before, but it’s essential that this point be understood. Another nonna was insistent on Monday that her car was parked outside and someone needed to check on it. I overheard family members reassuring her that her beloved Cadillac, which was sold years ago, was in good hands. They reminded her (with noticeable frustration) that they’d had this conversation earlier and she knew the car was gone. Her reaction? Utter confusion and, as a result, anger.
As dementia sufferer and former professor Cary Henderson wrote:
“You can’t build on experience. No two days and no two moments are the same.”
Dr. Taylor reiterates:
“It is virtually impossible to win an argument with an individual with dementia. … Trying to present an argument or convince the person of a particular point of view will lead to frustration and failure. Also, confrontation will only cause the person to be more defensive, further harming communication.”
- You will do more harm than good. I promise you, I understand how insanely heartbreaking it can be to watch a loved a one helplessly decline. You want to fix things; you’re dying to save them. Reminding them that they’re wrong, however, won’t help their mind – it’ll hurt their feelings. Imagine being told (by someone younger than you, no less!) that you’re mistaken about something you’re certain of.. or hearing, in so many words, that you had a conversation you know never took place. Has everyone else lost their minds?!
“Every time I have a feeling that I’m losing – losing contact, losing my brains, whatever it is, I panic. I think the really worst thing is you’re so restricted. … You just feel that you are half a person and you so often feel that you are stupid for not remembering things or for not knowing things.”
Paranoia is often an accompanying symptom of this disease, and understandably so:
“I would just chalk up paranoia as one of those feelings which is basic to Alzheimer’s people. The feeling of frustration, the feeling of having missed something. It’s real big. It’s heavy. We miss a lot of things and there are times when I feel like people are plotting against me. … I think paranoia, if I’m reading this right, almost has to be something that’s very basic to living with Alzheimer’s.”
There are going to be mistakes. There’ll be moments of confusion (and some of clarity <3). There will without a doubt be instances when your nonno is flat out wrong. Agree with him anyway.
“My advice to people who are caregivers is that…really…just keep things under control. Keep things easy to understand – not baby language or something like that. Don’t talk down to us. … [We] make an awful lot of mistakes – just try to bear with [us] and correct [us] gently. … There’s no sense in fussing at [us] anyhow – because I don’t believe [we’ll] understand what the problems are.”
Let go of the little things and choose not to argue. It’s one of the most important lessons I’ll ever attempt to teach, and it can’t be stressed enough. Will running outside to “check on a car” truly ruin your day? Will correcting your nonna make it that much better? If you take anything from this blog, I beg you, take the ride to the basement.