When to Correct Alzheimer's Patients' Memory

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • Yesterday I found my mom sitting in her wheelchair by the nurse’s station at the retirement community. I slipped up behind Mom and leaned over. “Hi, cutie,” I said. She looked behind her, spotted me, and asked, “How did you find me?”

    “You invited me to come see you,” I gently reminded her. “I’m glad you did,” she said. “I’ve had a hard day and I’m glad that you came to meet my plane.” I took Mom’s response in as I pushed her wheelchair over to an area in the common room so that we could visit.

    “So why did you have a hard day?” I queried. She responded, “I missed my connections on the planes, so I had to sit in the airport for quite awhile. It was hurry up and wait.” Obviously, Mom thought she had been in airports and on planes for most of the day. So I had to decide whether to “play along” or to correct her. I opted for the first choice.
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    Mom occasionally becomes delusional – at times she’ll tell me that she was working in the store (which my parents sold about 10 years ago), or she’s been driving. One of the issues that I face (along with other caregivers) is deciding whether to correct a deluded idea. However, the possibility arises that the correction will cause an emotional outburst by the loved one who has Alzheimer’s Disease. My mom is strong willed (and has an equally strong need to be in control), so my correcting her by telling her that she hadn’t been flying – that, instead, she lives in a nursing home and only leaves when there’s a doctor’s appointment - could easily trigger a volcanic response.

    Sometimes you have to decide what boundaries you will use to guide your response to a loved one who has Alzheimer’s. What delusions voiced by your loved one are you willing to overlook in order to help them remain calm and peaceful? My personal boundary has been set; the only time I will correct Mom is when her health is at stake. For instance, Mom once “saw” a report on television that she claimed said using oxygen tanks in order to breathe was dangerous. So she refused to put her oxygen on. Because of her lung disease, I knew that her decision (which was based on this imaginary television report) was not only incorrect, but leading her to make unhealthy choices. Therefore, that time I decided to take a stand and talk her into putting the oxygen on.

    I’d also suggest that caretakers should realize that the delusion will pass. I just got back from seeing Mom today, and she has no recollection of thinking that she was traveling on a plane yesterday. So I am glad I decided not to make that particular delusion into a bigger deal by correcting Mom. It wouldn’t have been worth the reaction that she would have had.
Published On: August 22, 2006