Alzheimer's Caregivers - Let Your Loved One Be Right

Over the course of time many people with Alzheimer's will say things that are nonsense and things that are simply not true. It's often tempting to correct them. That's our natural inclination, just as we'd correct people who don't have the illness.

But in most cases it's not the best thing to do. (There are some exceptions, which I'll get to further below.) In most cases it doesn't really matter if they are right or not. If we correct the person he or she may be embarrassed and/or angry.

For example, the person may say it's the wrong day of the week, the wrong time of day or the wrong season. It can be helpful to just agree with them and go on from there. Another example is if the person says her or she is going home. We can just agree. They will most likely soon forget all about it.

It's important to let the person save face. A lady with Alzheimer's I volunteer to visit showed me a photo of her deceased husband one day. Then a few minutes later she told me she'd never been married. I stupidly picked up the photo and said, "You just showed me a picture of your husband, and here it is."

She was silent for a few seconds then plaintively said, "Oh. I guess I was married." It was clear she was embarrassed and disheartened. It would have been much better had I just said, "Oh, I see" or something like that.

Then a little later she told me her husband was in France. Fortunately, that time I said, "Uh hmm." There was no use reminding her again that her beloved husband had passed away.

Then another time when I visited she was very confused and had trouble making coherent sentences. But, following the above advice, I just agreed with everything she said. She enjoyed that visit very much and at the end she said, "You're the only person around here I can have an intelligent conversation with." It was so much better than correcting her.

Finally, once she told me that during the war (I assumed WW II) several young ladies were bused overseas to dance with the soldiers. Obviously she hadn't been bused overseas! That time I was careful enough to not correct her, and she continued by happily telling me all about her experiences with the soldiers. It was clear she was enjoying her reminiscing.

If someone had been watching us, they would have thought I had Alzheimer's, too because I agreed with all the nonsense!

Another lady I volunteer to visit tells me each time that she's going home the next day. I know full well she isn't going home. But I usually just say, "I'm not sure you're going home tomorrow, but if you do, have a good time there."

Now, let's get to a few exceptions. Most of them deal with safety or hygiene issues. For example, the person may want to go out alone. They may refuse to take their medicine or take a shower. They may object to going to the doctor.

In my case, the lady I visit had fallen and broken her hip. She was sitting in a wheel chair during my visit. And she kept starting to stand up. She'd forgotten she wasn't supposed to do that. So I had to remind her each time, which upset her very much. She couldn't understand why she couldn't get up. But I really had no choice.

However, except for the above types of issues, it is best to let the person to be right. To let them save face. To let them maintain their dignity.

Does anyone have more examples of agreeing with your loved one when they say things that are wrong?

Marie Marley is the award-winning author of Come Back Early Today: A Memoir of Love, Alzheimer's and Joy and the co-author (with neurologist Daniel C. Potts, MD, FAAN) of Finding Joy in Alzheimer's: New Hope for Caregivers. Her website contains a wealth of information for Alzheimer's caregivers.

This article originally appeared on the Alzheimer's Reading Room.