The Hard Truth: You Can't Fix Dementia


Experiencing difficulty breathing? We can fix that.

Chest pain? We've got that covered.

Is your blood sugar low? No problem.

These are just a few conditions that can be remedied by common procedures or drugs. People who have years of medical training know that, at the very least, even something minor can be done for just about every health problem.

When dementia hits, though, all of this goes out the window. There are no fixes for this disease. There are some things one can do to make their loved one’s life more enjoyable or manageable, but no treatment or drug can fix dementia.

I have logged countless hours of training in the classroom to learn how to deal with all kinds of medical emergencies. It is what you are taught: how to counteract whatever may be happening. But when it comes to the things that dementia patients do, there simply is no procedure or drug that can be given to reverse the process or keep something from happening again.

Many times I have been in conversations at symposiums and speaking events where I tell those in attendance this, and you can hear a pin drop every time.

One of the first things I like to ask is what a caregiver should do at the start of this journey. Most people will recommend learning as much about dementia as you can, which is partially true.

But one of the most important things you need to know about this disease is that you cannot fix it. You need to know when to ask for help and be able to act on it.

Common sense tells you if you could fix this disease, there would be no need for dementia support groups like Memory People.

We frequently tell our members that we don't have all the answers, tout any quick fixes or provide false hope. We deal in reality. As hard as it is to do at times, it is much better to realize what you are up against instead of someone merely telling you what you want to hear.

To hear someone say, "It will get better" or "The progression will slow down," is all well and good. Neither is true, but these phrases do lend a sense of relief.

The fact is, as bad as things are today, this could very well be the best day your loved one has from now on. I am not trying to paint a bleak picture here, but we deal in what this disease does, not what we wish it would not do.

When you understand this, when you accept what is happening instead of always thinking this is just temporary, it will be better for you and your loved one in the long run.

We all look and desperately wish for that cure. We all want dementia to be something of the past. If it was easy, it would already have been done. So-called remedies are pie-in-the-sky ideas. Nine times out of ten, when someone is pushing natural or alternative remedies, they have an agenda. But for now, there is no cure and we must deal in the here and now.

So, my advice to you is to live in the present. Live for today, this very minute, this very second. Worrying about what will happen down the road is like carrying an umbrella with you everywhere you go simply because it might rain.

You cannot fix this. You can, at times, do things to make a dementia patient’s life more bearable, but to control what they do or how this condition progresses is just not possible.

Think of it this way, even when you have to deal with the most bizarre things today, tomorrow could be even worse. And chances are it will be. What you did today to help or calm them down may not work tomorrow or ever again.

Live in the moment, take one day at time, and remember these three simple things:

  • Are they safe?
  • Are they content?
  • Are they pain free?

If you can answer yes with a degree of certainty to these three questions, please know that you are doing everything you possibly can.

Rick Phelps became an advocate for dementia awareness after being diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease in June of 2010, at the age of 57. He was forced into early retirement and created Memory People, an online dementia and memory impairment group which supports over 7,000 individuals, all touched in some way by dementia.

While I Still Can

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I appreciated your message of hope but what i got from the article was be mindful of every moment which is what i need to hear right now, my mom is not doing well & no drug or therapy has helped. At all. Its sad & heartbreaking and i need to just accept what i have left of her.
Thank you, Rick, for another excellent article. My Dad is just starting his journey with dementia at 94, and the three simple things you mentioned I need to keep remembering as I worry so much about him. Especially knowing he is safe, which he is as he is living in an outstanding senior community.
Excellent reminder. Even knowing this to be the case I need to remind myself once in a while. I hate dementia, it robs it's suffers of so much.