Dementia and Disagreements: No one wins

unwontictactoeFor me, morphing from adult child to caregiver has taught me much. One of the hardest adjustments is leaving behind your past and learning that as the disease progresses, no one ever wins disagreements. If a discussion is getting contentious, it needs to end without anyone emerging “right”.

This was tough for me to learn because in our family, debates and the exchange of ideas was a tradition at our dinner table – even into adult hood. As mom’s disease progressed, frank discussions, or any disagreement brought out the lion. She would just become combative. Medication has helped and she is much less suspicious and disagreeable now.

It took me time to learn, but I began to redirect, let go and change the topic when a disagreement was coming. I’m not perfect at it, and on a bad day, I still struggle to overcome the old patterns of our decades-old relationship.

While the behavior changes in my mom felt personal, I never felt that way with my dad. You constantly wonder if the disease is just erasing a filter and their real personality and nature is emerging. As my mom has progressed into the disease, I have seen so many other changes that I’m convinced the combative and disagreeable woman my mom can become is not a personality quirk that she hid from me for many years.

In the first few years of the disease when we just suspected something was wrong but had no medical confirmation, I had a lot of arguments with my mom. The inability for us to have a disagreement without being disagreeable was one of the reasons I was sure something had changed with my mom.

We watched and witnessed many changes in our parents and worried for their health and safety. We finally learned that no one wins with dementia. Loser

When you are moving into a disagreement, consider:

  1. Emotions linger so avoid becoming angry or confrontational.
  2. The loss of short-term memory works to your advantage. Consider excusing yourself and going to the bathroom to wash your hands, when you return, you can start a totally new conversation.
  3. Emotions spread, so arrive with a smile on your face and a relaxed attitude.

7 thoughts on “Dementia and Disagreements: No one wins

  1. Your second suggestion brings to mind my very last day ever with my mom. When I arrived, she was in an ornery mood. I walked away and visited with the nurses for about 10 minutes. When I went back, she greeted me with open arms. We had a lovely afternoon…she never dipped back into the mean version. It turned out to be the last time I ever saw her. I like your advice.

  2. Great post, Kay! I always knew how much my mom had worked, through faith and with God’s help, through her anger and her temperament (which she always was open with us kids about growing up), so I knew that if dementias ever came knocking on her door that it was going to be tough, rough, and the hardest thing in my life I might ever have to deal with on an intensely personal level.

    Even knowing that logically and rationally didn’t prepare me for the reality and there were days upon days that I would leave her – because, fortunately, even in the earliest stages when I didn’t know exactly what was going on, I learned to just be quiet (hard for me) so it wouldn’t escalate – and burst into tears because it hurt. But I never walked away without saying “I love you. I will be back.”

    Medication made all the difference in the world behaviorally with Mom…and my resolve to love her unconditionally, no matter what, prevailed. For that, I am thankful.

  3. Good advice. I experienced personality changes w/my mom when she was recovering from cancer. We are opposites personality-wise and I tried to prepare myself emotionally as I knew I was going to be her in-home caregiver for awhile.

    There were some ugly arguments despite my best intentions, and at one point, literally feeling abused, I got a hotel room for the night. (My mom has Lifeline & I was only a 5 minute walk away. She was well along in her recovery so she could safely spend the night alone.)

    I thought I was making quite the statement by “walking out” and things seemed better afterwards. But a year later, the incident came up in conversation and she remembers nothing about it. She doesn’t remember the arguing or me leaving. At first I was upset that she could have such convenient selective memory, but then I realized that she is probably the better person for focusing on the positive and forgetting the negative. It was a good lesson for me.

    1. Yes – while my siblings have varying opinions, I don’t believe hidden meanness emerges but dementia truly changes the brain and new behaviors emerge. Medication can help with the paranoia that usually lies beneath and fuels the lion or demon weedy some days.

  4. Reblogged this on The Memories Project and commented:
    I’m sure this post will ring true for many family caregivers. Behavior changes can also occur with other diseases, like cancer. I struggled mightily at times trying to navigate the emotional roller coaster my mom was on during her battle with cancer.

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