Dealing with Dementia
September 2, 2004 4:11 AM   Subscribe

Dealing with dementia (especially Old Timers)
More, erm... thing. Oh, you know... Aren't those flowers a pretty colour?

After a long, long time, my grandmother has finally been diagnosed with "a senile degenerative memory disorder, which is most usually Altzheimers". This is great for us, because it means that we finally know that it's not something like a brain tumour (which was more likely for a while).

Anyway, I visit her once or twice a week, and regularly get accused of ganging up on her (with my grandfather's help) or get the same questions over and over, followed by denials of ever having known information before. She mistakes my relationship with my younger brother (we're both in our twenties) as that of him and our father (who died two years ago).

It's hard work, but I don't deal with it all the time, so I can cope. My question is, how the hell should I react to her denials and accusations? Should I agree with her, lie to her or argue with her? It makes no difference (in a way) because it's like living the film Momento, but I want other people's thoughts.

And I know the FFP was in bad taste. Tough.
posted by twine42 to Health & Fitness (11 answers total)
I definately wouldn't start an argument over it. I'd suggest paying as little as possible attention to it and moving the conversation to some other topic.

Nothing wrong with making fun of the demented, they'll have forgotten all about it tomorrow anyway.
posted by fvw at 4:19 AM on September 2, 2004

I would gently remind her of where reality lies, but wouldn't make a huge deal of it. Do find someone you can talk to (a friend) after visiting her to take the edge off, dealing with dementia can be very frustrating.
posted by biscotti at 4:56 AM on September 2, 2004

Twine. I'd also look into the suggestions I got.

Ask MetaFilter | Community Weblog 7781
posted by filmgeek at 5:29 AM on September 2, 2004

I dealt with it for many years... Honestly, as frustrating as it can be, the end result is always the same. When that end result does finally and inevitably come... you will feel guilty. Especially if you loose it once or, twice. But, it's natural and people have been dealing with it for all of human history.

Here's some things that helped me:

1). Don't argue. They're old and deserve to be right even when they aren't.

2). Don't remind them of bad things that they've forgotten. I watched in agony as mine relived the grief of deaths she'd forgotten, over and over. Like a dumbass, I didn't make up nice lies until it had happened a few times.

3). Don't worry about the "good days" vs. the "bad days" or, "how many more bad days she is having lately". Relish the good days and make them as nice for her and yourself as you possibly can.

4). On the bad days, sometimes no matter what you do, they're bad days. Making her remember you, your family or, the pointing out to her what she is wrong about, will not "teach her any lessons" (see #1). She just simply won't remember, even if you can trigger her senses back to reality.

Hope any of this helps. Regardless, this could go on for years or, it could be brief... when that end result arrives. Remember her as she was, even as she lives now and increasingly becomes someone you don't know. Remember, it's not her talking to you, it's a disease and it's perfectly natural behavior for someone suffering from it.

Hope you have some family support, I didn't.
posted by Dean_Paxton at 6:02 AM on September 2, 2004

More AskMe on the subject. Everything Dean_Paxton just said is right on. My grandmother died on August 29, 2004. She suffered a long time and I'm glad it's over.
posted by oh posey at 6:12 AM on September 2, 2004

I just left a job because my boss was becoming increasingly bizarre, paranoid, and forgetful. He used to be very high up in a Fortune 100 company and this was supposed to be his "retirement" job, but he really, really f*cked everything up on a daily basis. Someone finally had the nerve to get his wife to take him to the doctor, and he was diagnosed with pre-Alzheimers. Had I known that in the first place, I would have sent him a lot more information in writing, reminded him about important issues more often, not gotten defensive when he accused me of whatever strangeness of the moment, and generally been a lot more patient.

But I still would have quit. Because he's not my family.

Good luck, and just don't take it personally, no matter what. I'm so glad she has people who care around her.
posted by pomegranate at 7:02 AM on September 2, 2004

I have an idea, but I'm not sure it's a good one, because it might just freak your grandmother out -- but it's an interesting thought experiment:

Buy a diary and when you meet with her, write a quick summary of what transpired and ask her to sign it. When she accuses you of something, show her the diary entry.
posted by grumblebee at 7:57 AM on September 2, 2004

My own post made me wonder, assuming Alzheimer's isn't cured in the next few years, if the experience of it won't be somewhat different for those of us raised with computers.

I am so accustomed to logging my life. I sometimes think this has affected my memory, but I don't worry about it too much. If I need to recall something, I don't wrack my brain (like I used to when I was younger, before my life was so computerized); I look up the info online or on my pc.

If I got diagnosed with Alzheimers, it would instantly occur to me to record everything I thought of and look for the best archiving, searching mechanism I could find.

Sorry to go a bit off-topic.
posted by grumblebee at 8:08 AM on September 2, 2004

My grandmother is going through this right now. When I visit her, we play "who are you to me" the whole time. As in:
"Who are you to me?"
"I'm your grandson."
"You can't be my grandson. I'm not old enough to have a grandson." (She's 87. I'm 33.)

It's frustrating, but I take solace in the fact that she's not really "suffering". She's not aware of her own dementia. She just has no real recollection of the past, or concept of the future. She lives in the moment.

It's tough on my parents, though, with whom she lives.
posted by jpoulos at 8:22 AM on September 2, 2004


I'm making a point in life (with the now family history) to use my brain every day

I'm learning, doing crosswords, boggle, word games, anything to get my brain to work.
posted by filmgeek at 12:49 PM on September 2, 2004

Find some great music from her teens and 20s. Get her a cd player if needed. When you visit, look at old pictures, listen to "her" music, watch old movies. While her short term memory is damaged, she may be able to tell you stories (often the same ones) from long ago. Try introducing yourself as "twine" rather than "your grandson-who-you-don't-believe-twine", and just ask her leading questions, like where did you meet your husband, or what was your hometown like when you were a kid. Anything to get her started on a narrative track that will make her happy.

If she's in a nursing home, bring her some traditional foods, and slip her a glass of wine if it would please her. Give yourself credit for being sweet to her. It must be hell to be lost in your own mind. insert snarky comment here
posted by theora55 at 4:11 PM on September 2, 2004

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