Picking Battles in Dementialand

I don’t mean to criticize dementia caregivers. Caring for someone with dementia can be challenging and draining. But I talk to a lot of caregivers who create problems where I don’t see any.

Here’s an example. A woman approached me after a presentation I gave in the Des Moines area. She was concerned about her mom, who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and recently moved in with her.

Always an avid reader, her mom kept with her life-long habit of reading a chapter each night before bed, except now she reads the same chapter each night. She didn’t remember she had read the first chapter the night before, so she read it again. Her daughter had given her a bookmark and even a short lecture on how to use it, but she was stuck on the first chapter.

I kept waiting for her to get to the problem. Then I realized this WAS the problem. But is that really a problem?

I asked the woman, “So why are you concerned about this?”

The woman responded, “She’s never gonna finish another book.”

I still didn’t see the problem.

I also knew a man with dementia who talked to his IV pole as if it was a guy from work. His wife asked me how to explain to him that it was an IV pole and not a person. I asked if his conversations seemed to create any fear or agitation. She told me that it seemed like his IV pole kept him company and he interacted with him like it was his best friend. Yet she was surprised when I told her not to try to explain his friend was an IV pole. How would you like it if someone to tried to convince you that your best friend was actually an IV pole? Seem ridiculous? It would probably seem just as ridiculous to him.

I had a hospice patient who had dementia about ten years ago. She had a habit of unloading the dishwasher and stacking all the dishes on the counter. Once she finished that, she loaded them right back into the dishwasher. She sometimes did this for a few hours at a time. Her family wanted to know how to stop her. I asked why they should stop her. She seemed purposeful and happy while she loaded and unloaded the dishwasher.

If someone with dementia is happy, safe, and free from pain and anxiety, ask yourself whether their behavior is problematic. It probably isn’t. Now, it may be annoying to you, but that’s totally different. And if it is annoying to you, you need to focus on how you can change something about yourself (your attitude, your environment) so it is less annoying.

Dementia presents plenty of challenges. We may have to find a way to keep people from wandering and getting lost. We may struggle with how to talk to grandpa about giving up his keys. Convincing someone to take medication can be a struggle. Sometimes we even have to stop people from putting inedible items, like marbles, in their mouths. Those are challenges.

Yet I notice that families want to create problems where they are none. And when we do that, sometimes we don’t save enough energy to problem-solve issues that really do need to be solved.

3 thoughts on “Picking Battles in Dementialand

  1. Thank you for this! I think we family members often get stuck on wanting our loved one with dementia to be the same as they were before, to be (or at least to behave as if they are) “normal.” We’re all a lot happier when we recognize that just isn’t going to happen and meet them where they are now.


  2. When my Mum was hospitalised with a UTI she was offering the oxygen cylinder sandwiches – she chatted away to it like an old friend – the nursing staff didn’t appear to notice or pretended not too as she was happy and content.


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