Dementia Patients Often Confuse the Facts


Many dementia patients reach a point where they can't separate fact from fiction.

Charlie is reaching that point. If he sees something in a movie it isn't long before parts of that story are becoming a part of his history. The same goes for a book he may be reading. His favorite reading material consists of memoirs of fighter pilots.

We were attending a function with a group of neighbors recently when, as usual, someone asked Charlie about his years as an Air Force fighter pilot. I overheard him telling the group about a bombing expedition he had been on where they had to refuel in China. The truth is, Charlie was never involved in an actual bombing mission.

He was on active pilot duty only from 1956 through the Cold War. By the time he got to Vietnam he was on restricted duty because of an aircraft accident that had left him partially paralyzed. I realized that his story about China was probably something he had read about another pilot. He was not lying; his mind was playing tricks on him.

Another time, he told me that he had been on a gunboat traveling down the Mekong Delta, when the boat was strafed by gunfire. Since he was an airman, I am pretty sure this was another example of something he had read that had become part of his "history."

When these invented stories come out with friends or acquaintances, I try to let the listening party know that Charlie has some memory problems and to not take what he is saying at face value. One understanding gentleman just chuckled and said, "Well they are good stories, anyways."

Charlie gets confused about places he has lived, vacations we have taken, who was with him during certain events and how old he was when certain things occurred. I used to correct him when this happened. That only seemed to confuse him even more. I have since learned to just agree with him, unless others are listening, then I try to gently explain the situation as it really happened.

It's the same thing when a person with dementia accuses someone of stealing from them or mistreating them. This can cause a great deal of family stress with no one knowing wherein lies the truth.

It's important for family members to realize that something they have been told by a loved one with some form of dementia may not be absolute truth. There may be some basis for the story or it may be a complete fabrication based on something the patient has read, heard or even dreamed about. Don't let the stories upset you and don't repeat them unless you are able to corroborate the facts from another source.

Marlis describes herself as a “Gramma who loves technology and has a lot to say.” She blogs about whatever catches her interest: food, books, family and more. For, she writes about the issues facing the elderly and her experiences caring for her husband, Charlie, who suffers from dementia.

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I read this and it really makes me miss my mom. She is still here with us put she no longer talks. She will sit at the table and eat her meal without ever saying a word. On the rare times thar she does speak she is usually stuck in a "loop" as we call it, she will repeat the same phrase over and over. These repetitions give me an idea of what she is thinking about and it has always been good times in her past. Her favorite " loop" is the one when she shares what she believes her mil and Fil thought about her and Dad getting married, "she is a city girl and he is a country boy" their marriage won't last. Mom and Dad's marriage lasted 44 years until Dad died. Now mom asks me to "call your father sometime". Mom turns 85 today and we are taking her out for dinner, we will all have a good time just being together!
My mother is a master confabulator. She can take a grain of truth and spin a tall tale around it. Then she normally forgets what is true, so her new version becomes fact. Now that she is declining more she is forgetting her new versions. She is replacing them with simplified versions that are still untrue. I rarely correct her unless it is important. I never correct her around other people, because it would embarrass her. I can talk to them later if it is important enough.
Being somewhat new to the field I appreciate this insight! I myself used to get confused as to what to believe or how to respond to the elderly people I engage with. Now I know to go along with the story and appreciate it when the story is a positive one that brings them happiness.