The caregiver learning curve

Many persons (who understand dementia) advise caregivers to be calm and loving and to never argue with patients. It is good advice, but these advisors then expect the listening caregivers to see the wisdom of the advice and change immediately. They forget that their suggestions require the caregiver to change habits built across years, and also involves the caregiver going through a very hurtful emotional acceptance about a family member who now has dementia.

Some habits are required to cope with the situations and people around us, and are deeply ingrained in us.

Suppose I go to a shop and buy something, and after I have paid, the shopkeeper demands money again. Will I opt for humor, distraction, cajoling, agreeing with him, and paying again? Or will I explain and then (if that does not work) argue?

Suppose I have spent three hours cooking an elaborate dessert for my kid, and the kid has consumed it all. Then the kid claims she never got the dessert, is hungry, and has been starved. Will I agree that yes, I am mistaken? Will I argue? Will I feel no annoyance or frustration or anger? Then the kid goes and tells the neighbors the same thing, and they believe the kid. What will I do?

Or consider this. Suppose, two years ago, a relative visited us and while living with us suffered an infection serious enough to require hospitalization. As I am sitting with my husband and talking of a neighbor who has suffered the same type of infection, my husband claims he has never heard of such a disease. Will I mention the two-year-old episode or not? Okay, so I do. Now he claims there was no such visit, no such relative, no such hospitalization. Will I say, Of course, of course, you are right my dear, would you like some chamomile tea? Or will I start convincing him, giving cues, arguing, maybe fishing out an old diary as proof? Or even go to Wikipedia to show the listed symptoms to convince him I am right…

What I am say is that arguing, convincing, proving one’s point, and making sure others accept our memories as “the facts” is something most of us do all the time. Life would be extremely difficult if we did not do so. Not all of us sit cross-legged in the Himalayas.

These habits misfire when talking to dementia patients, but we still need them in other spheres of our life, as we have been doing to deal with stuff right from childhood.

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