How I disarmed my contentious mother with dementia

Today, for the second time in two days, I figured out how to divert the confabulated facts my mom repeats about the loss of their car.

I don’t want to repeat exactly what she said because it’s so nasty and not indicative of the woman who raised me. I’ve tried ignoring her, changing the subject, taking her head on with the facts and all of those typically ended in some type of misery for one or both of us.

Today, I looked her in the eye and just told her “That’s so sad. I hope you don’t really believe that. Do we have to have this conversation?” Before my mom can reply, my dad jumps to the rescue and says “No, we don’t need to have this conversation.” I quickly start a new topic.

It’s been so frustrated tying to help my parents when my mom dishes out false facts and dares us to counter or discredit them.  I work very hard to employ my three go-to tactics when I visit my parents. Today, they worked. Succeeded.

This is just one post in the story of how the author, Kay Bransford, is working to help her parents. When her mother called her three years ago wondering how to get money into the bank, Kay embarked on a six-month journey to gather, organize and document the personal, financial, medical, online and household details she needed to maintain their day-to-day lives. From this experience, Kay launched MemoryBanc and now provides a workbook which provides caregivers with the tools they need to easily support their loved ones. 

25 thoughts on “How I disarmed my contentious mother with dementia

  1. Dear Kay,
    I feel thrilled you for you, but continue to feel very uncomfortable with PWD being referred to as ‘demented’… If we were disAbled, I feel sure you’d refer to us by name, and simply refer to the difficulties of our disability.
    As always a point of view from the other side of the fence. 🙂
    With love and hope.

    1. Hi Kate – I actually looked into this and considered how to 1) describe it so others in a similiar situation find it 2) found several sources that someone with dementia would be properly classified as “demented”.

      Unfortunately, my mother has moderate dementia and is considered cognitively disabled. Sadly, my dad is in the same boat.

      I LOVE your viewpoint – maybe we need a better way to describe it? Help me better understand the difference between a disability and disabled?

      Hugs, Kay

      1. Hi Kate,
        I’ll give it some more thought. Perhaps it can be the next question/topic for our other blog… that is, when I get organised enough to send some alternative images for the header!!
        With love and hope always,

  2. I work for a nursing home, this is always a challenge. We are taught that we have to “live in their reality” because if you don’t, they will argue with you. In their minds, it is REAL. If I were to tell you that this blog post was not reality and that you were mistaken, you would argue with me because you know it is real, you are living it. That is the same perspective as your mom. She is convinced that whatever she is talking about is real and valid.

    It is frustrating and infuriating to say the least. Your response was perfect, it didn’t exactly refute what she was saying but at the same time deflected the conversation.

    We had this one elderly gentleman. His family sold his truck and put him in the nursing home. He couldn’t drive, so the obvious choice was to sell the vehicle to help pay for his care. He had become increasingly dangerous at home, often locking himself into rooms without being able to get himself back out. By the time they broke in to get him out, he had defecated all over the floor and smeared it on the walls. Anyway, everyday he would wander down to the door near my office and ask what “those darn kids” did with his truck. He would then try to escape to find his truck. I finally told him that it suffered extensive hail damage and had to be demolished because it wasn’t repairable (yes, we have had hail storms that bad in the past). It took me about 3-4 times of telling him that day after day, he finally accepted that the “damn truck” was worthless because they just don’t make them like they used to.

    Deceptive? It depends on whose world you are in. In his world, this made perfect sense.

    Prayer are with you. Dementia is hard.

    1. THANK YOU SO MUCH! I know I need to get more confortable to provide the right response which may not always be rooted in MY reality (or the truth which is my biggest hurdle to overcome). I’m still working on that part! Great insight and advice.

  3. Hi, Kay, I teach an advocacy course to people with acquired brain injuries such as traumatic injuries and strokes. We cover “disability etiquette” and societal perspectives and attitudes about disabilities at length. One of the key points we discuss is the need to focus on the person, not the disability, first. An individual’s disability does not totally and exclusively define them, so, therefore, saying “a person with a brain injury” vs. “a brain-injured person”, or “that person with epilepsy” rather than “that epileptic”, or “that person with dementia” rather than “that demented person” helps keep the focus where it should be.

    Very much appreciate your blog and your insights.

    1. Thanks for your comment. You will find I typically say “my parents with dementia” and understand the senstivity on this issue (you will see a comment from Kate Swaffer who is living with early on-set dementia and poked me on the same issue).

      1. crazy; insane; mad.
      2. affected with dementia.

      As the care giver, somedays I need to be able to remind myself that the choices of the person sitting in front of me are crazy. I’ve heard the medical community classify both my parents as cognitively disabled. That doesn’t seem any better.

      What I struggle with in this case is that the dementia has changed my parents. There are moments of them that appear, but in general, the dementia has altered my parents in unpleasant ways. Somedays I need that subtle distinction to cope.

  4. Sometimes redirection works very well with my aunt (94, dementia), especially if she likes the new topic. She might come back to the original topic, but gentle redirection helps more often than not.

  5. Dementia is the “Symptom” of the Brain Losing Cells that eventually end up with the body functions closing down; as the disease progresses. The condition is known as “Alzheimer’s”..!! Alzheimer’s is considered “Terminal” by the Medical Profession; thus, a person with Alzheimer’s will die from what is considered a “Natural Death” when the Brain shuts down all Bodily Organs..!!!

    I was “Primary Caretaker” for my 85-yr. father, Suffering from Alzheimer’s for the last year of his life..!! I had to take his car away under Doctor’s Advise; and, he was not Allowed outside the home alone at all..!! He Argued, Cursed, Threatened, etc.!! To take a person’s “Complete Life n Freedoms” is a very hard thing to do..!!! People with this condition do “Not Believe they are sick,” they Believe they are Fine, n Capable of taking Care of themselves; which they are not..!!!

    Dying a “Natural Death” is not “Easy at All”..!!! It is Sad n Heartbreaking to see a family member die in this manner; Waiting for the body to shut down completely..!!!

    There is nothing you can do except keep the person Safe, Taken Care of, n Comfortable until their life ends..!! God bless everyone who goes thru this with a Loved One; and, give them the Strength they need to stay Sane, Loving, n Caring for their Loved One..!!!

    1. Thank you for your note. It seems a bit like a cruel trick to play on us all. I’m determined to make something positive from this experience … even if it’s so I can manage it better in my senior years.

  6. A very smart response. A funny story. My grandfather had dementia. He also dipped snuff and would spit in cans…it was a nasty habit. My mother took care of him and for health reasons my mother decided it would be good for him to quit. When my grandfather would ask for his snuff – my mom would reply, “you quit dipping, remember?” and he would leave it at that.

    1. My parents have a habit I’d like to eliminate (cocktail hour). It never makes the brain work better! However, with two of them one always seems to disagree that they ever gave that up.

      Thank you for your note!

  7. I don’t understand this. My mother has had alzheimer’s for at least six years, and my siblings and I stopped correcting her entirely as soon as she was beyond understanding and remembering what was talked about. She decided my father was still alive, and we did not correct her. She came up with extremely innovative stories about many things, and we didn’t correct her. I never saw it as a contest between my mother and me but was looking for what seemed to be best for her. What good would it have done to tell her that her husband was dead–over and over and over? Was she supposed to have to deal with learning that every day? She had what she thought were good explanations for why he wasn’t there at the time. My father bought her more presents after he died than he ever did when he was alive. If I took her a present, within ten or fifteen minutes, she would tell me that Daddy had bought that for her. Why correct her? Maybe I don’t understand what is being discussed here. I do hope caretakers don’t consider things like this as some sort of a contest between the caretaker and the parent.

    My mother has advanced to a stage where she rarely is able to talk. I would love to hear more stories about how my father was a CIA operative and had to stay away from the house. Alzheimer’s to me is like losing my mother a little bit at a time. Certainly I have always wanted to make her life as stress-free as possible.

    1. As one person shared with me, when you meet one person with dementia, you have met one person with dementia. What you might not know from my history, is that my parents who both have dementia, will not accept help and we are still managing through the transition. It’s very hard to manage, keep someone safe and keep your sanity when the person that needs your help doesn’t understand they need it. I get calls from APS and their retirement community as we try to guide my parents into the right support solution.

      I love your story and the ability to give her gifts that she treasures.

      Our families experience is very different. I am trying to share my journey, along with my parents, in regard to how we both are progressing. In our situation, the people we are trying to help are combating any attempt to make the changes needed to keep them safe.

  8. I have lived on the east coast for 37 yrs. As far away from parents as possible. Unfortunately, both of my brothers died young – my parents are 80, my mother with terminal lung cancer – my father had heart failure last year. He made a miracle recovery – but with some brain damage. I spent 2 1/2 months taking care of my mother – I dislike my mother and the feeling is mutual (although she come’s across wishy washy as if she ever cared – what a joke). Short story – father recoved, came home and after some re-hab – resumed care of my mother. Now one year later – my sister-in-law of my youngest disceased brother who has been a saint for the last 17 years – still bringing over their grandaughter when she was young, and recently taking phone calls from the local police as a result of my father’s actions – pushed my mother down, screams foul language at the neighbors, driving away from the police (he was driving 5 mph and throughing trash out of window). He is obviously deteriorating mentally. He will listen to nobody – nobody is allowed in the house. Washington State Adult Protective services do not have the right to remove them from their house. I do have financial power of attorney but they have to be declared mentally unstable. A total nighmare…

    1. Wow. That is a lot to deal with. I was under the impression APS would get involved if the individual was a threat to others … which it sounds like he is — especially to your mom. I wish you well and hope you will keep me posted on progress. It’s nice to know how others have dealt with parents gone rogue. – Kay

      1. Thank you for your reply.
        I have e-mailed a request to WSAP for another evaluation last week. It would be much easier if these were children being dealt with. Then the Government would step in and assist. Unfortunately, I believe something extremely dangerous or drastic will have to happen before any assistance will take place.

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