Correcting a person who has dementia

livvysmomJuly 16, 2007

My aunt (81) has had some dementia for several years now. She has had every medical test available but her only treatment is anti-depressants and Aricept.

Recently, my cousin, her live-in caregiver, went on vacation for two weeks and my aunt was home alone. She did pretty well and had many visitors and social outings (she depends heavily on her wall calendar to tell her what she is doing each day).

Anyhow, my mother(her sister) and I took her out to lunch the other day. I noticed my mother frequently corrects my aunt. For instance, the waiter brought my aunt her salad and my aunt said she thought she'd ordered a hamburger. My mother explained that we'd discussed her getting a hamburger but decided it was too much food.

My mother tells me that my aunt called her the other day and asked if she was going to my cousin's house the next day. My mom told her no, they couldn't make it. Forty minutes later the phone rings and my aunt asks her the same question again. My mother nicely said "you just called me 40 minutes ago and asked and I said no, we aren't going." My aunt was so upset with herself and cried saying "I don't know what's wrong with me." Anyhow, my father chewed out my mother for even telling my aunt about her mistake. My mom thinks she should know what she is doing. My aunt knows she has a problem -- there is no denial there.

Here is the question -- how often and under what circumstances do you correct a person like this? My aunt repeats herself often and it gets annoying -- but I feel by correcting her all the time she is going to be afraid to say anything for fear of looking stupid. It seems during a conversation she either repeats herself or is staring off into space.

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Livvysmom, there are a lot of knowledgeable people on this forum, who'll eventually chime in with their good advice. I'm facing what you describe with my own mother now.

Regarding the correcting, your mom probably thinks she is helping your aunt. After all, that's what you'd do with children -- constant reminding, repeating, correcting, etc. The difference is that children eventually get the message. But someone suffering from dementia no longer has the capacity to incorporate new information. Trying to remind them is an exercise in futility. It's frustrating for everyone involved. But the reality is that the sufferer honestly doesn't remember or understand. No amount of reminders & explanations will change that.

Your worry is a real one. Like children, a person suffering from dementia may become afraid of saying anything for fear of looking foolish or for fear of being reprimanded.

From your description of your aunt, I wouldn't recommend leaving her home alone on her own anymore -- not even for a shopping trip, hair appointment, etc. It's probably time to discuss with the family how to handle the times your cousin will need to run errands, socialize, etc. You need a plan to make sure someone is with your aunt at all times, day & night. You may also need to discuss security updates for your aunt's house -- locks, locked gates, fences, etc.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2007 at 7:21PM
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this is unfortunate. Correcting the demetia patient doesn't help. It usually confuses and upsets them, which makes the situation worse for them.

In their minds, the truth is what they think, and what someone else telling them, is a lie. They don't understand why someone would lie to them. The nice ones just nod and agree, but the bad tempered ones can get very angry at being corrected. Anger always makes their view of things worse.

Your mother must understand that she isn't helping your aunt. The memory is not only gone, but it has been replaced with something else, and that "something" is what she believes. It is an unkindness to try and correct her.

You are good to see what the problem could be.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2007 at 12:23AM
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This is so natural to try and correct. Something in you wants to believe that if you do it often enough something will finally "get through". But it doesn't, and it becomes as frustrating for the person with dementia as it is for those caregiving or spending time with people with dementia.

The good thing is that your mother will suddenly realize that it's the disease (and not her sister)that is responsible. When that can be accepted, it'll be just so much easier to play along and get into her sister's world by just going along with whatever happens. No one gets hurt, everyone keeps their dignity and in the whole scope of things, it just doesn't matter.

I agree that this is the time to start thinking about the inevitable - the day your aunt can no longer live independently. And there's help out there with support, support groups for caregivers, what to expect from someone with dementia, services, etc - the Alzheimer's Assn.(whether the problem is Alzheimer's type dementia or one of the 37 other dementias) has a wealth of information for the asking.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2007 at 9:01PM
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I, too, am a relative/was a care giver of a dimentia patient. My mother has it. It sounds like every single person is a bit different in their symptoms. My mother lived in florida and I lived 1,000 miles away. I flew down to bring her back home with me a year ago, but she adamantly refused to move. I had an airplane ticket and had her packed, but couldn't budge her. From that point on, I decided my plan of action was to get her as quickly as one more incident happened. She was in and out of the hospital with irregular heartbeat.I called the law down there and had them do a welfare check on her every few days. They had called an ambulance on her twice, then on the third time, they said she could not stay alone any more. That was what I was waiting for. They treated her in the hospital and then moved her to a nursing home until I got down there to bring her back. By that time, her memory was so bad, half the time she didn't know what was going on. It's so hard. I miss my mom. I feel so bad that I couldn't have gotten her up here with me sooner, but she fought me on it. I have been looking for other people's comments on stages, or behavior of their loved ones and they all seem to be different. Mother would wander off and not know how to get home. She told me before she got too bad, laughingly, she said sometimes I can't tell if I've dreamed something or it really happened. That haunts me to this day. Bless her heart, she must have worried about it in private before I even caught on.

    Bookmark   August 15, 2007 at 10:20PM
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Connie Kru

We cared for my mil for 5 years. but there were many months/years, that we wished she would come stay with us, but no way. We to had to wait, until she could not fight us on it. It was scary, as we were so far away, we could not be sure what was really going on.
We just ask God to show us when it was time and he did.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2007 at 6:23PM
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This is a problem I have with my mother. I have to sit there and listen to her tell me that she wants my sister to get her home, that my sister paid Mom's hospital bill one time to keep the hospital from taking her home to pay the hospital bill. Mom has always had complete coverage with insurance, none of that is true, but it's hard for me to listen to it. I used to correct her but not anymore. It just confuses and scares her.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2007 at 7:35PM
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Jonesy, look at it this way. This might be what's going on. She may no longer remembers what insurance is or what it did. But she is still capable of understanding that somehow the bill got paid. In her mind, she has moved facts around to find something that satisfies the situation. Now, to her, that's the truth and nothing else is correct.

It's very strange how big hunks of understanding (I don't think I would call it memory) how things work just seems to disappear. But they have enough function left to realize that somehow there has to be a solution.

I remember when my mother just completly forgot how to flush an ordinary toilet. But she knew she had to get water into the bowl somehow. When I found her, she was filling her shoe with water at the sink and pouring it into the toilet. That little handle on the toilet tank didn't mean a thing to her. Yeah, weird!

    Bookmark   August 23, 2007 at 8:11PM
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Agnes, my husband did things like that. He forgot the simplest things. He worked with his hands all his life. When he came home from work, he would clean up, take a nap, eat supper and spend the rest of the evening in the garage fixing something. When the Alzheimer's started, first he lost his "nouns", then the mechanical stuff. I caught him with the tank cover off one day, he was trying to figure out how to flush, poor guy. Mom has dementia and it's not near as bad as his Alzheimer's. She can still cook and care for herself, she doesn't wander off, but every story she tells is wrong, grossly wrong. The worst she has ever done is go into a neighbor's yard and dig up a start from a bunch of flowers. My sister is very good with her and she told her she would end up in a care home if the neighbor had called the police. she never did anything like that again. LOL

    Bookmark   August 23, 2007 at 10:51PM
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Chemocurl zn5b/6a Indiana

My aunt repeats herself often and it gets annoying -- but I feel by correcting her all the time she is going to be afraid to say anything for fear of looking stupid.

I have a dear friend who has been doing that for years. Occasionally she will start off with, "I've probably told you this b4. Let me know if I have".

My reply oftentimes is, "Yes, I think you told me that a long time ago, but I'd enjoy hearing it again."

It is usually something from her long term memory...a pleasant experience from her childhood, or memories of her grandmother who was so special to her. She is so happy remembering and talking about loved ones in her life. I'll gladly listen as long as she can remember and tell me those things. I dread the day when she will no longer be able to remember and tell me of those happy times in her life.

She too asks the same question repeatedly...maybe 3 or 4 times in a 10 minute period. Each time I answer her as if it was the first time she asked.
I've seen others complain to her asking the same question repeatedly. It serves no purpose but to make her feel bad about it...making them agitated at her she thinks. I think eventually she won't talk to or around those people for fear of making a mistake and repeating herself.


    Bookmark   September 11, 2007 at 12:40AM
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My dad has early alzheimer's and has become verrrry quiet; he used to be quite the talker and could make anyone comfortable and chat with them about SOMEthing. Now I'm beginning to think that my mom has corrected him so much in all that he does or says these days, that he has turned to silence for comfort. But he's still almost silent with me...course, we are all together when I'm there. But I do sense that when he does or says something wrong that being corrected makes him feel disgraced or depressed. I am thankful that he's physically okay, whereas mom (who is okay mentally) is weak and has no stamina. They are a pair; I'm just glad they can still function together--they sure need each other!!!

    Bookmark   September 11, 2007 at 7:57AM
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I'm an old-timer from way back on this site, and lived through alzhiemers with my Mother until she passed away.

Having gone through all the stages of this horrible disease, I feel I can safely say that one must NEVER correct a person with alzeimers. I found that smiling, and nodding worked just a well, and made life much more pleasant for both of us. If they say that they saw your late brother yesterday, then ask if they had a lovely visit.
Whatever, just please don't correct them. They're off that subject in the next second anyway, and will have forgotten what they just said.

THEY don't understand what they're saying or what they're referring to anymore than we do. If they say the sky is pink, then just agree that it's a lovely shade of pink.
What is the point of correcting them? It just scares them, makes them feel corrected like a child....they understand by your tone that they've done something wrong, but can't comprehend what it would be!

I speak from the voice of experience in ALL phases of this disease, so please don't think I'm just tossing this out there.

My dear, darling Mother passed away in November, 2006 and I still miss her with all my heart.

    Bookmark   October 14, 2007 at 7:56PM
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I'm glad I took some time to scan topics and found this thread. Very helpful. It's sooooo hard to hold back from correcting, tho, particularly when the mistake or wrong idea could affect the "patient's" health if they were allowed to do what they believe is right.

    Bookmark   October 18, 2007 at 3:50PM
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I had trouble listening to the outrageous tales my mom told, I wanted to correct her so she could keep in touch with reality. It was pointless, 5 minutes later it is the same thing all over again, no point in upsetting her. My husband had Alzheimer's, but he still had faith in me to tell him the truth. he believed everything I said and he knew his memory was going. Mom just doesn't believe there is anything wrong with her.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2007 at 7:23PM
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jonesy, that is the position I am in now with the absurd...Mom accused my sister of switching vacuum cleaners with her....knowing that it was new and she probably still had the box for it, I went downstairs and wrote down the serial numbers and compared to the ones on her supposed switched vac......they were the same. Her response?..."they switched boxes too!!...sigh

    Bookmark   November 17, 2007 at 8:27PM
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My mom, who was an excellent public speaker, very comical, very informative, clear ... now can't remember how to ask for what she wants. She asks but uses the wrong words ... for instance, she was asking my 16 year old daughter for pepper steak last night. My daughter is no cook, so she came through to the living room with my mother right behind her and called to me. My mother stood right beside her and asked for pepper steak while looking right into her face. This made my daughter take a step back (while smiling very hard), and of course my mother followed her, also smiling very hard and starting to gesture to my daughter while saying 'pepper steak'. We (my husband and I) couldn't help laughing either ... and so my daughter was laughing and my mother was laughing all the while she kept gesturing to my daughter and looking right into her face very closely saying 'pepper steak'. My husband walked into the kitchen (he's the cook at our house), and my daughter followed him with my mother in tow and eventually they figured out she wanted a smoothie. My daughter makes excellent smoothies and often makes them for our entire family (I have 2 sons at home as well), and this is what my mother knew for a fact, she just didn't know how to ask for it. It was pretty funny and we all had a laugh, but when the laughing was over, I became sad, realizing my mother was losing more and more of her ability to communicate. She is pretty quiet most of the time, and I wish she would talk more often, she still laughs with us when she listens to us talk, and I have to be thankful for that. I at first went through a grieving period, when the realization hit me, I was missing my mother, and I still do ... but I have great memories of her. The memories make me happy, to remember her as she was, and what a wonderful woman she was. For now I am happy she has gotten over the frustrating times when she would struggle to tell us what she wanted, knowing that she was saying it wrong, and trying to find the right words. She is far more relaxed now then she was when it first started, that's the blessing. My mom, I am hurt, I am angry, I am frustrated, and she was the best I could ever have asked for ... so I hide my hurt, my anger, my frustrations. My husband takes very good care of her. He is home with her all the time, and when the kids get home from school, he has time to be out and about doing what he needs to do, and when I get home from work we're all there with her and we have our evening meal together. We're as normal as we can be around her. I don't know how else to be ... it's just the way it is. When things get worse, we will find a way I'm sure.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2011 at 7:11PM
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Welcome to the club. The variations on the theme are amazing.

Might want to look up "paragraph", though. : )

    Bookmark   July 14, 2011 at 8:18PM
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Interesting! My folks are dad 95 & stroke 1 yr ago mom 89 & heart problems, high BP & gets frustrated with dad as he wants to wipe his nose on his sleeve even tho we have lotion tissues handy.(probably something he did as a kid) She thinks if she tells him enough, he will "get it" I told her I don't think so. He eats well can swallow but doesn't talk much. His only other problem is he can't walk without help as wants to fall over the walker to the right. Asolo- maybe above poster has an E-machine like mine. Every time I try to start a new paragraph everything I've written disappears so I would have to start over. Has a couple of other quirks also-" I" often ends up i & when I push "&" it often is 7 so that might be what you get when you stay in parking lot at Best Buy all night & get computer really cheap! I'm used to it so it doesn't bother me!

    Bookmark   July 14, 2011 at 10:05PM
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Yeah, wouldn't hurt to back off of that stuff. Your notice welcome. Never should have said it.

Dementia is a b***ch. Comes and goes. One moment they're one way and next moment you don't know what happened. Unlike children, there's nothing to be gained by "instruction" or "correction". They're not learning and developing like a child is....they're going the other direction. Our job is to accommodate as best we can....which can be pretty easy or can be so hard that we just can't do it.

Falling is a different deal. Once that begins, it's just a matter of time until the fractures come. When the fractures come, everything's turns awful.

Typical decision-points are 1) when they lose the ability to walk, and/or 2) if they can't handle their bathroom stuff and/or 3) when they start doing dumb stuff that puts them at risk. These are the points at which constant attendance becomes necessary. No individual can provide constant attendance. No two people can provide constant attendance. That's when the hated words "nursing home" have to spoken.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2011 at 11:50PM
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Despite my always telling my dad not to argue with or correct my mom, who has mixed dementia, I found myself doing so tonight. She seems to do so well and does seem to see where she's confused, so I thought it would re-orient her in time. We'd been talking about her mother, and I got the feeling she was recounting what she thought was a recent memory. So I asked her what year grandma died...1989? She said no, it was a bit later than that, maybe 1992. Then a couple of minutes later, she said grandma had visited her at her house recently. I kind of joked about her considering 20 years ago to be recent. She said it was a couple of months ago. I asked if she understood we had just talked about this and went through all the details of how we went to grandma's funeral. She basically told me I was crazy and had gone to someone else's funeral thinking it was my grandmother. I finally said that this is why we need some help, because glitches in her memory (which she considers to be the result of mini-strokes) are causing her to lose her place in time (the Alzheimer Society wants to have her do activities with a worker to keep her as sharp as possible--she's pretty autonomous--but she has flatly refused what she calls "babysitters"). She got angry and went to walk home (at the time we were 40 miles away) so I had to block her. I managed to distract her with a cute puppy walking by and she let the topic go and we were back to normal. A few minutes later, after showing me a pretty complex poem that she'd written earlier today, she said "when my mother came to visit a couple of months ago..." and I just nodded, said "that's nice", and tried to change the subject. She's back to herself, and I've spent the rest of the night crying because she's doing worse than I thought....

    Bookmark   August 25, 2011 at 12:10AM
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