Lately, I’ve been asked about how to reason with a demented person, and it makes me laugh. Maybe I’m a little perverse, but if you know me, or have read any of my stuff, you know that humor is my favorite defense mechanism.
Having lived with this knowledge of the evils of dementia for several years now, and because I UNDERSTAND THIS so very well, I take for granted that EVERYONE knows it already. I need to be reminded that there are millions of people who haven’t gotten the memo yet. Thank you for reminding me. This mission is important and there’s a lot of educating to do.
So here goes: YOU CANNOT REASON WITH A DEMENTED PERSON. Saying anything to someone who is in cognitive decline has extremely limited value. Why?
- Demented people can’t learn anymore, so they can’t retain what you tell them.
- They are often HALLUCINATING. They see all kinds of things that we cannot. And what they see in their minds is just as real, if not more so, than anything you could possibly tell, show, or be to them.
- Their ability to “reason,” apply “logic” or comprehend language is diminishing, because their condition is damaging their brains.
- The information they are receiving from inside and outside is terrifying, especially in the beginning, when they are still high-functioning. They are finding that they can no longer trust what they perceive, and that they are losing the ability to be the person they have valued being. They often suspect that someone else is doing things to trick them. They become paranoid, agitated, frustrated, angry and unpleasant. I dare say you would, too.
- They do a good job of acting as if they understand what you’re saying, especially in the early stages. They’re usually good at “covering.” Because those of us who love them are in denial that they are as sick as they are, and we want to BELIEVE they comprehend, the ruse is successful for a while.
The great author, Robert Heinlein, famously said: “Never try to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and it annoys the pig.” And so it is with the demented. Don’t waste your valuable time annoying people (including yourself) and getting nowhere. Spend the time learning more about what they’re going through (reading this will help) and sharing affectionate moments with them instead. They don’t need to be corrected or convinced. They do need care and love.
And unlike pigs, demented people often can sing (and may surprise you by recalling lyrics), and will find enjoyment in connecting with music from their past. The emotional centers of their brains survive longer than the other parts, so connect there. You and your loved one will both feel inexplicably better as a result.