When my father was in the early stages of his dementia, he would often have conversations with others that sounded like he knew what he was talking about- though we knew that was not the case. It would make me cringe in social settings. Here was my dad, initiating a conversation with the lake house neighbor telling her about a new road and parking lot that were going to be put in on their tiny street. He sounded believable and as though he had gotten his information from a good source – to someone who didn’t know he had Lewy Body Dementia.
As he went on, I stood behind Dad, looking over his shoulder into the face of the neighbor, and gestured to let her know that it wasn’t true. She caught my cues and went along with letting him speak. My first instinct was to cut Dad off mid-sentence and let only the truth be known. However, I learned through many earlier instances of correcting my father in public – “Dad, you’re not meeting with Warren Buffet next week, don’t say that” that my intentions of correcting his untruths were actually way more harmful than letting them be. It took me a while to learn this simple lesson. By righting the wrong in front of my dad, I was humiliating him. I was making him feel wrong and me feel right. A good choice? I think not.
Today I was talking with one of our Assisted Living residents. I asked her if she’d had any visits from her family this weekend. She replied by telling me that her mother hadn’t been by in a while and that her father would just work all day and come home late at night and go to bed. Again, my first gut reaction was to right the wrong, “Laura, your parents aren’t here, they’ve been gone a long time. Are you talking about your husband?” Instead, I just let it go and commented, “Oh, that sounds like a hardworking man!” and she replied, “Yes, yes he is”. And we moved on. No harm, no foul. She must have been thinking about her parents and through our short exchange, I learned something more about her and what her life must have been like ages ago. A silver lining, in a way.
So, as you encounter seniors who may, or may not have a dementia diagnosis, involving conversations reporting things that just don’t add up – I encourage you to resist that first instinct to correct them. Instead, take a breath, step back and go with it! Resist the urge to correct- it’s not about winning after all.
-Susie Sarkisian, Director of Family Services at The Kensington