When a Parent Has Dementia, Arguments Can Be Counterproductive

For family caregivers, validating a parent's notions provides reassurance and avoids conflict

by Carol Bradley Bursack • Next Avenue
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"Thank you for helping an old man’s fantasies,” Dad said, in one of his increasingly rare moments of clarity. He looked at me through clear, intelligent eyes to thank me for producing the degrees and awards he’d asked for; for taking dictation and "mailing" letters to local and national leaders; and for supplying him with business cards and a title. The moment was brief. His pupils soon returned to mere pinpoints, his gaze unfocused. Dad, once again, was swallowed up by his dementia.
 
My father didn’t have Alzheimer’s disease. He’d suffered a closed head injury during World War II but had recovered enough to lead a fairly normal life. However, the body never forgets traumatic assault. The shadow of his injury began to overtake him in his 70s. He underwent surgery meant to prevent impending dementia, but it backfired and, overnight, Dad as we knew him disappeared.

(MORE: Handle Dementia-Related Behaviors With Compassion)

At that time, almost 20 years ago, many psychiatrists believed that people with dementia should, when delusional or confused, be redirected to what most of us understand as reality. I knew nothing about this theory. But I did know my dad, and he didn’t respond well to this type of redirection. He felt diminished and humiliated. He became defensive, angry and argumentative, which was the reverse of his normal personality.

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