Should you correct a parent when they are living in the past? -

Should you correct a parent when they are living in the past?


My mothers in a nursing home, and thinks people she sees on a daily basis are people she used to know many years ago. She will talk to them as if they were her old friends. My father died almost two years ago, and she acts like he's still alive. I keep correcting her and telling her that he's dead, and she will either say "Why can't I remember that" or she will disagree. I let her go on about seeing old friends,(that are dead) but don't feel right letting her think my fathers alive. If I try changing the subject, or don't answer her question, she persists. Should I keep correcting her, or just let her go on thinking what she does, and make up answers

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Her big thing every day is that my father is out buying a new car and is going to bring it over to show her. Also my father went out in the morning and hasn't returned, do I know where he is? Some times when I correct her she immediately knows she was wrong, and is fine with it, which is why I hate to string her along, but then soon after she will forget again. I have no problem just going along with her thinking the other residents in the nursing home are people she used to know, and listening to old stories about them, but it bothers me to have to make up answers to questions about my father coming over, or what he is doing today, etc. I guess I'll just try to not give her a specific answer, but like countrymouse said, just talk to her about him. Hopefully she will forget the question she asked me if I do that, and not insist on an answer.
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My opinion is to just go along with her. Contradicting someone who has dementia can cause more confusion and also cause agitation. Correcting someone who has dementia serves no purpose and is just part of what we do and is part of what is so challenging about caring for someone with dementia.
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Trying to keep it simple sometimes helps as well.

Will she remember if you tell her your father has died? Probably no.
Will she be hurt and sad if she understands he is dead? Probably yes.

Will it harm anyone if she thinks current people are old friends? Probably not, as long as they understand the situation, if they're medical professionals. If they're not, they might also be confused and/or may not understand. Will it hurt them? I'm not sure.

Is there any benefit to being honest with her when she doesn't understand or remember? Theoretically yes, but practically no.

I think I'd go along with what she says without introducing a reality which she no longer can understand. Make it easy on her.
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Being with someone with dementia can be like living in a different reality. My mother confabulates and confuses things a lot. I don't correct her if no harm is done, and it rarely is. I really like what countrymouse wrote. It gives some really good thoughts on how we can agree with them and be honest at the same time. When we disagree with their reality, it can be like we're pushing the real world at them. Most of the time, the real world is no better than their version of it. We do have to weigh what is important and what isn't and adjust. It can feel like the twilight zone at times.

There are some things that are very important, such as medications. Altered realities can include things like the doctor said they didn't have to take a medicine anymore, or that they could leave the NH tomorrow. Maybe in these circumstances we could just say the doctor changed his mind. But things like not remembering if a spouse or child is dead may be painful to deal with repeatedly. We have to decide when it is important to be truthful or better to go along with their reality.

I've often found myself wondering if maybe my own reality is way off. Maybe I've been spending too much time in the twilight zone where there is no absolute truth.
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This is really difficult territory.

To give an amateur's summary of a highly technical professional area, the idea is that you go to meet her. So, supposing she says "that's Edna, our neighbour" when she's talking about the lady in the next room and Edna died twenty years ago. What you do is talk about the late Edna. And you can just leave it there, no harm done. Or, on a good day, you lead the conversation from Edna in the old days to what became of Edna, and then gently on to who the lady in the next room really is.

The thing about correcting your mother - well, there are several things. One is that she really can't remember. You can't train her to. So it's upsetting for both of you if you just remind her each time, and on top of that upsetting for your mother that she can have forgotten such a momentous fact. Again, go to meet her. Talk to her about your father, go along with her, and then lead her back to the present day.

The focus is on what makes your mother comfortable, first, and on maintaining her right to be in possession of important information second. It will do her no harm to live in the past; but the point is that you're right, it isn't right or respectful just to humour her if you can do better on a given day.

Avoid lying where you can, and avoid flat contradiction. You want a more Socratic approach to the subject. It's not easy. People train for years to become good at this. They're called "locksmiths" - I haven't checked, but you can probably look on line for training and education resources. I hope, maybe, you will feel much better about the whole horrible disease if you can get really good at handling it. You'll certainly do a heck of a lot to bring your mother comfort. Best of luck, please keep posting.
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