10 Things People with Dementia Might Say and How to Respond

Esther Heerema, MSW – VeryWell.com

1. “You’re cheating on me! I can’t believe you went off with that tramp!”

Sometimes, it’s hard to know how to respond to someone with disease or another kind of dementia, especially when they make comments that -to you- don’t make sense or are hurtful. Here are some practical suggestions to try, and while none of them will work all of the time for everyone, perhaps you’ll find one or two that are helpful in your situation.

Response: “Oh Fran, you know that no one else would be able to put up with me! I love you. Let’s go for a walk. Remember when Freddy was born, what a little miracle he was? He’s coming over at 3:00 o’clock today.”

Using humor and distraction when coping with challenges can help both the caregiver and the person with dementia.

2. “Where’s my mom? Mom, come here!”

Response: “Are you looking for your mother? I bet you miss her. Can you tell me about her? What did you like about her? Was she a good cook? What was your favorite food that she made?” (This is an example of using validation therapy to support the reality of the person with dementia.)

Sometimes, when you use validation, the person may be comforted just by talking about her mother or father that she misses. Those memories may be enough to calm and reassure the person. At other times, validation can even help a person come to the point in the conversation where they say, “You know, I really miss my mom. She died several years ago.”

3. “It’s time for me to go to work. I don’t want to be late!”

Response: “Before you go, stop a moment to eat some breakfast or you’ll be too hungry during the day. Hey, would you mind taking a look at the sink for me? It’s not draining correctly. Oh, and I just heard that your brother Harry and his wife are stopping by soon today.”

Remember how much routine and identity may be connected to leaving for work each day in the past.

4. “Look at that fat lady. Wide load coming through!”

Response: (If heard by person, you can quietly say to her): “I’m so very sorry. She’s has dementia and doesn’t understand that she’s being rude. I’m so sorry.”

If this is a frequent problem, you can also consider handing out a pre-printed very brief explanation of how Alzheimer’s disease affects people. You may also need to limit outings if this is a significant issue.

This type of behavior can also be quite hurtful when directed to family members and friends.

5. “Help me. Help me. Help me!”

Response: “Hi, Frank. I’m right here. Are you in pain? Can I get you a glass of water? Let’s go for a walk together and stretch our muscles.”

6. “You’re just a *&@#*!” (Foul language)

Response: “Mom, please don’t speak like that. It scares the children. You sound frustrated. Can I help you? Would you like to read your daily newspaper?”

7. “Don’t you dare touch me or I’ll clock you one.”

Response: “Good morning, Sally. If you don’t need anything right now, I’ll come back and check on you in 15 minutes.”

8. “Why are you letting her steal my money? I had it right here and she took it!”

Response: “When was the last time you saw the money? Let’s look together for it. How much was it? Let’s look through your purse. You know, I misplaced $20 the other day and finally found it on the kitchen counter under a book. I’ll help you look.”

9. “Don’t leave me! Where are you? Come here!”

Response: “Dad, I love you so much. I’m right here. I need to go out to cut the grass but you can watch me if you’d like.” Or- “I just need to use the bathroom for a few minutes but I’m not going anywhere. Can I turn your favorite show on for you?” (Sometimes, if you’re visiting a loved one at a facility, you may need staff to distract your loved one at mealtime for you to slip away without causing her to be upset.)

If you’re able, you can also just choose to spend a little more time with your loved one before you leave.

10. “I want to go home now. Please take me home!”

Response: “We can’t go out right now, Fred. The weather’s not very good. While we wait, can I get you a cup of hot chocolate? Also, I’m wondering if you can help me sort through these family pictures.” Or- “While I get ready for our walk, I wondered if you could you tell me about your brother and sister when you all were little. Did you share a room with Uncle Fred? I bet you and he had a lot of fun together. Did Aunt Sarah pester you, or was she a fun little sister? Can you tell me again about the time you played that joke on your mom and dad? I love to hear about your family! You must have had such fun growing up together.”

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