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Published August 24, 2013, 10:00 PM

Minding Our Elders: Tired of fighting with Mom

DEAR CAROL: My mom has middle stage Alzheimer’s and I find that I often treat her like a misbehaving child. That’s not my intention. I respect her as my mother.

By: Carol Bradley Bursack, INFORUM

DEAR CAROL: My mom has middle stage Alzheimer’s and I find that I often treat her like a misbehaving child. That’s not my intention. I respect her as my mother. But I have to say “no” to her when she insists she can drive the car and when she wants to buy expensive things she sees on TV ads or in catalogues. We even argue about what she wears. She says I’m bossy. I seem to be doing something wrong. How do people cope with this? - Ginny

DEAR GINNY: I admire your awareness that even though you must monitor your mom’s behavior, she is still your parent. That awareness tells me that you will do your best to honor your mom’s place in your life even with the challenges presented by her dementia.

One of the cruelest things about your mom’s dementia is that she thinks that she’s being logical and you are the one who can’t see things properly. No amount of arguing will change her way of thinking. In fact, arguing will only backfire, causing anxiety and frustration for both of you.

Life will likely go more smoothly if you resort to some trickery, and even “therapeutic fibbing,” as a way to honor your mother’s role in your relationship. That may seem counterintuitive because loving relationships shouldn’t be based on these behaviors under normal circumstances. However, dementia is far from a normal circumstance. A certain amount of game playing and fibbing – I prefer to think of it as joining her in her own world – is actually more respectful and less discomforting than constantly telling her she’s wrong.

As far as her other issues go, often people with dementia simply get bored and look for something to do, so distraction can be effective. Think back to the older, nostalgic TV shows your mom liked in the past and order the DVDs. “I Love Lucy” is one long-running series that comes to mind. Lawrence Welk was another popular show.

If she mentions driving, say something like, “The car needs a new battery. Let’s talk about driving after we get that fixed.” Then try distracting her in some way. You may want to pull out an old family photo album. Sit on the couch and page through it, commenting as you go. She’s likely to get interested and want to join you. Simply watch her reaction to photos and if you see that one catches her eye, ask her to tell you about it. Any sort of distraction that grabs her attention will redirect her thinking for awhile. Repeat as needed.

As far as her clothing goes, let her wear what she likes just as long as she’s comfortable. If she continues to insist that you order something she doesn’t need from a catalog, why not fill out an order form and say you’ll mail it tomorrow? Of course, tomorrow never comes. In general, by playing along and being flexible you should find that you both can be more relaxed.

Contact your local Alzheimer’s Association or go online to www.alz.org for education, advice and more guidance. Their help is invaluable.

Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached at carol@mindingourelders.com.

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