Things Never to Say to a Parent With Alzheimer's

As those with firsthand experience know, there are guidelines to follow when talking to someone suffering from Alzheimer’s. People with Alzheimer’s or other dementia can become easily upset, especially when reminded–unintentionally or not–of the faults of their fading mind, so it’s essential to be sensitive when dealing with this kind of situation.

Knowing that sensitivity is important when dealing with a parent with Alzheimer’s, below are five things never to say to a person with Alzheimer’s, adapted from advice from award-winning author Marie Marley:

Don’t tell them they’re wrong. A golden rule of talking to someone with Alzheimer’s is to let them save face if they are wrong about something. Try not to contradict them, as there’s no good reason to do so. Sometimes, your loved one will realize they’ve made a mistake and correct it. If not, though, your correction may embarrass them.

Don’t argue. “It’s never a good idea to argue with a person who has dementia,” Marley notes. Why? Because you can’t win. Also, arguing may upset them or even make them angry. Instead, try to change the subject to something pleasant when a conflict arises.

Don’t ask if they remember something specific. While tempting, it’s best not to ask a your loved one with Alzheimer’s if they remember a specific person or event, even something as recent as asking about what they had for lunch. “Of course they don’t remember,” Marley writes. “Otherwise, they wouldn’t have a diagnosis of dementia.” A good point. Rather, keep the conversation open-ended, saying things like “It was nice when we had lunch together last week.”

Don’t remind them that a loved one is dead. It’s common for those suffering from dementia to believe a deceased spouse, sibling, or parent is still alive. They might even feel hurt that the person doesn’t visit. Still, by informing them that their beloved are dead, they might not believe you and even become angry. And if they do believe you, they will likely become very upset at the news. “An exception to this guideline is if they ask you if the person is gone,” says Marley. In this case, give them an honest answer, even if they’ll soon forget.

Avoid other topics that may upset them. Simply put, there’s no reason to bring up something that you know will upset your loved one. Leave your personal frustrations aside if you disagree on something. Like we touched on above, it can easily lead to an argument you can’t win.

Can you think of any more topics to avoid when talking to a loved one with Alzheimer’s? Let us know on Twitter or in the comments.

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