How To Speak To A Person With Dementia


Taking care of a loved one when they are suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or dementia is a very challenging task as we all know. It’s probably one of the hardest things that you will ever have to do in your lifetime, but it is also a monumental accomplishment.

In the beginning, you will notice small things like forgetfulness and little things that might seem like unusual behavior, but even then, you might brush it off as a result of stress or being over scheduled. When the episodes become more frequent and you find yourself standing there scratching your head, because you know that there is something very real happening to them. Instinctively, you know, that life will never be the same for you or them.

Ggma_mom_1939  mom-dad-boat

(Photos) (1) Eleanor Van Meter with her grandmother. So young and pretty! (2) Eleanor, Mom, with my father, Edward Brophy on a boat, somewhere, appearing to be enjoying themselves…with her whole life ahead of her. Who knew what the future would bring?

The behaviors, of course can vary with each individual, but many of the behaviors, I have found strangely enough, to be identical to other patients suffering from this disease, leading me to believe that the same part of the brain is effected in all patients at this stage of the disease. As in the case with my mother, Eleanor Van Meter, as she started into her journey with dementia, I found that she would be very paranoid. She would always be hiding things and then forgetting where she hid them. When she couldn’t recall where she hid them, she would make a beeline straight for me, accusing me of everything under the sun. I’d be sitting at the computer in my kitchen, where I normally would be on a Sunday afternoon, and she would shuffle in with a puss on her face a mile long and fury in her eyes, heading straight over to me. “Where are my credit cards, where are my medical cards? You took them, I know that you did…you were always a rotten kid, I should have never had you, you little shit.” The first time that happened, I was completely taken off guard, immediately I felt hurt because of her words and then I became defensive while declaring loudly that I never touched her things…I wouldn’t do that. In the beginning, I didn’t know how to handle this, knowing that I didn’t steal anything, but at the same time not knowing how to speak with her about it so as to not fuel the fire making it worse. Actually, in the beginning, you are so taken off guard, you are not thinking of anything except defending yourself and your honor against their harsh words. That train of thought would soon would change…

Through the school of hard knocks, I learned first hand, that arguing with someone who has dementia is an argument that you will never win. Never, never, never, ever try to argue with your loved one with dementia. You will NEVER win…EVER! They have a way of going around and around and in the end, you will be so frustrated that you will want to cry or explode, whichever comes first. So, how do we speak with our demented parents in that situation? I came to learn, first and foremost, be calm, speak softly, slowly and with compassion about them having lost their things. There is nothing that you can say that will make them believe that they hid it somewhere, forgetting where they put it. They can’t remember that little fact. They only remember where the object always resided before. Their brains are not working correctly anymore and certainly not in the way yours works. They honestly believe that you stole their things….because they certainly wouldn’t have moved anything themselves.

It’s important to sympathize with their loss and that the missing object will probably turn up, and how sorry you are that they can’t find it. Chances are, they won’t believe a word you are saying, but at least in the end, you know that you spoke with them in a loving way and that you tried not to upset them any more than they already are. Validating their feelings and their loss will only help the situation and you stand a better chance of calming them down and snapping them out of the dementia attack.

You might want to try and change the conversation to something else, such as I used to do with my mother. In hard times such as this, I would ask her if she would like to listen to Pavarotti, her favorite singer. She would always agree and we’d go back into her room and I’d pop the cd into the player, she would sit there listening as if she was in a trance, forgetting about her earlier concerns. This was usually the best part of her day and I was happy to see the peaceful look on her face once again as she appeared to almost be floating on every note that Pavarotti was singing. That was heaven on earth to her.

Funny thing, most times when my mother snapped out of a dementia attack, after accusing me of stealing things, later, she would always come to me and apologize. 

I would ask her, you remember acting that way? She would say yes…I can’t seem to stop once it starts. I always found that amazing…it was living proof to me that she was very aware that there was something very wrong with her.

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Oh No, I’m in the Doghouse Again…Dealing with Dementia Patients

Basic CMYKMondays are usually a stressful time for me when caring for a dementia patient, in that you’re bouncing off of a weekend, hopefully a good one…the alarm goes off at 5 am, you’re tired because you’ve been going to bed later than normal for the past 3 days but work is calling. You drag yourself out of bed, do all the things that you do in the early am and out of nowhere, Mom decides to get up early. I pass by her room, and notice her toes moving…I say to myself “OH NO…I’m not ready for her to get up yet, I am still trying to get ready for work” I pass by deliberately a few minutes later, and now I see her feet dangling off of the bed. I peek my head in her room and I say “It’s really, really, really early, you can go back to sleep for another hour”, praying that she will lay back down for awhile. As fate would have it, on this Monday morning, no such luck…I can see trouble in her eyes…or rather that weird stare when she goes into a dementia attack. I continue to go about my business thinking that maybe, just maybe she will give in and go back to sleep for an hour….nope…she’s up and shuffling towards my bedroom door…Happy Monday.

So, with that I make sure she’s not needing the bathroom, and I continue to go about my business in getting ready for work. When this happens in the morning, she reminds me of a lost kid, with all of us running all over the house from this room to the next in preparing for the day, and there she is standing there wondering what is happening. It’s obvious that she wants some attention paid to her but since she seems all right, we just keep doing what we are doing so we can stay on schedule for work. Vladimir leaves for work and now it’s just me, Mom and the dog, waiting for Cardine, her home health aide to come. I’m still running around trying to be done on time. Finally it’s 7:30 am and Cardine’s car pulls up. Tonya, the dog sits in the window eagerly waiting for her to walk through the door in anticipation of the usual snack that I leave for her when I go to work. Mom is standing there wondering what is happening going further and further into her dementia attack, and I am saying thank goodness Cardine is here, a sitcom in the making. After she arrives and settles in, I brief her on the morning, I say my normal goodbyes and I get a wicked awful blank stare from Mom. Her face is expressionless and her mouth is like a straight line across her face. She does this whenever she is angry with me….so, I just excuse myself and leave for work saying “Have a nice day ladies”. I wish I could think to take a photo of this because it’s a funny face…Mom was mad at me so I’m thinking Oh Boy…poor Cardine, Mom is in a tailspin and they will have a rough day and that’s never a good thing. On that note, I was gone…

Photos: (1) Mom and her home health aide, Cardine…my hero!

mom-cardineUpon my arrival home after work, I found that Mom let her anger go right after I left and Cardine had a wonderful day since Mom readily agreed to have a hair wash and a bath in the morning without a fight. People with dementia apparently let go of anger a lot faster than the rest of us, probably because their mind is in out of sight, out of mind mode…It was a good day for all….after all.

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Can Music Therapy Help Soothe Dementia Patients…it did for my Mom.


Mom at a very young age sitting on the
stoop at the family house.


We work all week long, getting up on Monday wishing our lives away for it to be Friday, only to have a hard weekend dealing with dementia attacks from Mom over the weekend. This weekend however, has been quiet and normal thanks to music therapy. She had a wonderful Saturday listening to Pavarotti cds all afternoon, which I can honestly say is her favorite thing to listen to. I actually feel it makes her normal, calm and puts her into a completely different head set making her thoughts clear. She can sit and listen to him all day and never tire of it, just sitting there as if in a trans, swaying back and forth to the music. She came to live with me with a love for Pavarotti’s music and in her mental void, that has held true.

Today, she is passing the time going through all of her papers, which of course, she loves to do. I know it makes her feel like she is in the office, which is her second love to Pavarotti. I enjoy seeing her involved in the things that she loves and although it’s not what we would choose to do for ourselves necessarily, it works for her life. Helping to make a dementia patient engaged and involved is helpful in that, they are not stressed, leading them away from dementia attacks. That helps both the patient and the caretaker to have a better day. Keeping a person with dementia engaged is key to helping to slow down the progression of the disease.

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Photos Above: (1) Mom as a little girl sitting on her front steps, (2) Mom out in California sitting at her home typerwritter.

She also has a lot of games and puzzles, but she much prefers the paperwork and music therapy. I have recently been given some brochures and information about people coming in to the house to give her music therapy during the work week when Cardine, her home aide is here. I think that would be a wonderful idea and would help to keep her mind moving during the day, while also give her something to look forward to. With spring coming on, it would be a good idea to start new things which will engage and stimulate her in different ways. There are probably organizations that would come in for arts and crafts as well. I think that Cardine would love that tool….she loves to color!

So, it’s a sunny and tranquil Sunday, and I find myself appreciating the day knowing that Mom is having a good day. Bring on Spring!

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