Explaining Dementia to Someone with Dementia

As the doctor repeated to my mom that she was going to make the recommendation to have her license revoked and my mom kept responding with one argument after another, Doctor J took another approach. She tried to explain to my mom how her notion that “Sometimes my brain is bad” combined with my dad’s lack of short-term memory, creates a very unsafe situation for them, especially when driving a car.

My mom starts to argue. The doctor gently explains to my mom that she is in denial and reminds my mom that she just told her that sometimes her “brain is bad.” The doctor continues to explain that what my mom doesn’t recognize is that the small gaps she perceives are really pretty large missing pieces of information.  She gives her the example of walking to the exam room door.

“If I told you to walk to the exam room door, you could do that. However, if I give you a series of instructions to get to the parking lot, you would forget 3 of the 6 steps needed to get to the destination. Unfortunately, your husband can only remember 4 of the 6 steps.”

My mom seems to consider what she is saying. After a few seconds pass, she comes back with a rebuttal. This circuitous conversation seems to go on for a long time.

I’ve have been wondering about the idea of telling someone with dementia that they have dementia. Will they understand? Do they need to know? My mom has seen the neurologist reports. Now she just dislikes the neurologist.

After this discussion, it’s clear that my mom is still in denial. She will not accept hearing this. The fact that my dad has never slightly acknowledged her issues is perplexing. If he would speak up in this situation, would it help my mom accept this information she does not want to receive? Is he able to recognize that something is not right with her thinking?

There is no resolution or clear path forward, however, the community around us is stepping in and shoring us up. They are helping fill in where we have been unable to make any progress. Fortified.

To read about dementia from someone who has been diagnosed with it, please visit Kate Swaffer’s blog.

3 thoughts on “Explaining Dementia to Someone with Dementia

  1. Kay, you father may see this as a no-win situation based on her denial, crazy illogical arguments, and anger. I believe it is (as he may perceive it), a combination of self preservation and duty. Drinking and eating seems to be the only thing they can do together that takes no effort or arguing. I believe he can’t bring himself (in a normal state) to tell his wife of 50+ years she has dementia. What does he do next since he does not know how to ask for help? To the outside observer it appears that he could get her help and the proper care she requires. He may then be able to refocus on his own issues and potentially get healthier, happier, and better motivated to face each day.The ramifications for him are fairly huge as he will have to overcome many behavioral/generational and loyalty issues that are probably gnawing at him. Just my perspective.


  2. Thank you for mentioning my blog and site Kay. Your daily challenges, that overflow with your love and committment to your parents, and the union with your sibings is inspirational. Thank you for showing me the other side, which helps me be kinder and less demanding of my own family. xox

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