Learning to Deal with Mom's Distorted Reality: Current Events and Alzheimer's
As a caregiver, you sometimes don't realize what snippets of current events have become part of the thought processes of a loved one who has Alzheimer's disease. Recently, my mother's disconnected understanding of what's going on in the world became apparent during one of our daily conversations. The challenge for me became how to respond in a kind and loving way so that Mom felt validated in her ideas (even if they were totally off base).
Let me set the scene. I went to see Mom at the nursing home around 4 p.m. last week and found her sitting in her wheelchair by the nursing station. After a warm greeting, I asked her if she wanted to go visit. "Sure," she said. So I proceeded to push her wheelchair to the foyer area that holds three cafe tables where we often talk. As we approached one of the tables, Mom put her feet down on the floor in order to slow the wheelchair. I asked her why she was trying to delay our visit; her reply: "I'm not sure if this is where you go to vote for Republicans or Democrats."
Quickly I realized that Mom probably had seen some of the political coverage on the TV in the nursing home's common room. So with that "best guess" as to what informed her response, I proceeded to enter the conversation. "I don't know what political party this table represents, but is there a political party you want to vote for?" I asked. "I don't even know who is running," Mom replied.
I responded, "Well, on the Democratic side, there is Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and John Edwards..." Mom stopped me with a gleam in her eyes, "John Edward is running?" (Before the Edwards campaign camp get excited at this virtual endorsement, I need to let you know that my cousin's first and middle name is John Edward, which is what got Mom's attention. And my cousin is not seeking election for any political office that I'm aware of.)
Quickly replying, "I don't think it's Johnny Ed (the cousin), but I'll check and let you know," I kept the conversation going, spouting off some of the top Republican candidates. By the end of that list of candidates, Mom's attention span had wandered so I could move the conversation to what her day had been like.
The reason I share this story is that as a caregiver, it's often very easy to say to a loved one with dementia, "It's not time to vote. Elections aren't for another year. How did you get that crazy idea?" But realizing that a loved one's timeframe and understanding of what's going on is very different from yours provides a helpful way to frame your response to a conversation that isn't based on what is really happening. Plus, knowing that answering Mom's comments with a statement that makes her feel inadequate can trigger an emotional response, I have learned to let some things slide and not to have to voice such a "black and white" or right vs. wrong view of the world.
I wrote about this topic previously in several SharePosts listed below, but I still think it's a skill that caregivers - especially those who are new to careing for loved ones who have dementia - need to learn how to develop. Learning how to respond in a loving way to comments that aren't based in reality can help you keep your own peace of mind as well as that of your loved one who has Alzheimer's.
Other Shareposts on this Topic: