Our family is going through a personal, painful reality that so many have experienced: a beloved family member has dementia. My Dad now lives in two realities. The one we share, and one all his own.
Last week, I dropped into the Alzheimer’s Society of London to poke around their resource library. I was looking for guidance on how to talk to my Dad when he is operating on information from the other world. Lately, his delusions have included one of us. I’ve left him behind somewhere or someone else has run out on him when they weren’t supposed to. We know that we’re never supposed to correct him because it’s too upsetting and confusing and…what’s the point? But if he thinks we’re letting him down or treating him badly, then what do we do?
A wonderful Social Worker spent some time with me and we role-played a bit. She saw first-hand how upsetting the situation is for both parties. Her advice: stay the course. Do the very same thing as before. Offer empathy and comfort, and then change the topic.
Dad, and many others like him, have too much time to think. Trying to set them straight on anything is only hurtful and causes them stress and anxiety. When he’s alone, how is he supposed to differentiate between what’s really real and what feels real? He can’t. It’s all real to him. So there’s no benefit to him in being told he’s imagining something. His alternate reality needs acceptance. Fighting it only adds to his feelings of alienation and isolation.
Please remember this if someone in your family develops this awful disease. Be kind. Assure them that they’re not alone. Loneliness is a terrible byproduct of being in long-term care. Encourage visitors, as we try to do. Operate out of a place of patience and love. And seek professional advice if you’re ever unsure. It’s out there if you look for it.