Figuring Out How to "Refocus" Your Loved One During a Delusion

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • When Dad and I got to the retirement community so we could celebrate his birthday as a family, we quickly identified Mom in her wheelchair parked by the nurse’s station. Then I spotted the look in her eye. It was Mom’s “my way or the highway” look, and she was focused it on a group of people – nursing staff, residents and visitors – who were milling around in the hallway in front of her.

    I quickly handed the smoothie drinks I was carrying to Dad and asked him to go sit at the table in the community room. Then I proceeded to go up to Mom, greet her, and then push her wheelchair over to where Dad was sitting (and away from the throng of people). Mom quickly began to protest against leaving the scene, but I told her that it was Dad’s birthday (which was true) and that I knew she wanted to come celebrate.
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    Once I got her to the table, she explained that he needed to go back over because those people were “in the store, and I need to tell them to leave.” Obviously, Mom was having a flashback to the days when she ran a fabric store; the trick was going to be how to defuse the situation.

    I leaned over and told Mom that I’d go handle those people, while she stayed and visited with Dad. She didn’t necessarily like that solution, but she grudgingly agreed to let me take on that responsibility. I headed to the nursing station. Knowing she was watching me every step of the way, I turned the corner so I’d be out of her sightline. Then I headed to the restroom to take a breather.

    After a few minutes, I headed back to rejoin Mom and Dad. I told Mom that I had handled everything, and had managed to get everyone to leave before I locked the store’s front door. Mom’s panicked delusion was solved. We could all relax and enjoy each other’s company – and the smoothie.

    A few days later, Dad went to see Mom alone. She again was around the nursing station, and was having a delusion. He went over to see her, and she ordered, “Go sit down over there.” Having learned over 50 years of marriage when to challenge Mom (and when not to), Dad decided that this wasn’t one of those times. He went and sat. Ten minutes later, she was still stirred up, and he left shortly after that.

    Upon returning home, Dad asked me how to handle the situation. These aren’t easy ones to deal with, but my best advice to him (and to you) is to find another subject that has more emotional meaning to the person who has Alzheimer’s Disease and redirect their attention to that subject. On the day that Mom was thinking she was a store owner, I moved her attention to Dad’s birthday. In this second case, I suggested that Dad bring up something about my brother, such as talking about his upcoming visit. Even if it’s information from a conversation that they had the day before, chances are that Mom will not remember.

    Sometimes you have to think creatively about how to structure a visit and a conversation, especially when your loved one is having delusions. Figuring out how to refocus them – such as telling “white lies” or redirecting their attention to some other area - are ways that you can ease your loved one’s stress and make the time together more enjoyable for both of you.

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Published On: September 06, 2006