Storytelling Stress – What do I do when my Dad tells false stories about experiences that never occurred?
Dear Dementia Solutions:
“My dad, who has dementia, has gotten into the habit of stretching the truth. During visits, he starts telling these wild, incredible stories that are completely fabricated. I listen in frustration as he tells these tales over and over again, but I don’t know what to do to stop this behaviour. I welcome your advice.”
~Tired of Tall Tales
Dear tired of tall tales:
Tall tales being repeated over and over again would be frustrating for anyone to listen to. My first piece of advice is to start being conscious of your reaction whenever your dad launches into another story. As you feel your blood pressure rise, take deep breaths and remind yourself that though you may be unable to control your dad’s behaviour, you can certainly find ways to dilute your own feelings of frustration.
Remind yourself that dementia is governing your dad’s behaviour in this case. Grandiose notions of having invented a particular type of car or having dinner with a celebrity, for example, may appear glaringly false to us, but in the mind of someone with dementia it may be a truth as clear as daylight. Often these stories are told with such conviction, that pointing out their falsity can create more anxiety. Imagine how you would feel if someone told you that what you believe to be true is an illusion. Additionally, if your dad feels accused of being a liar, this may just lead to him feeling more distressed and you feeling more stressed.
Instead of battling with your dad, the best approach, though it may not always be easy, is to go along with his stories and accept the “truth” as he sees it. Supporting him and boosting his confidence by responding positively to his tales (for example, saying “Wow! That’s incredible!”) can do wonders toward keeping him in a good mood.
To make the process easier for you, every time you visit your dad, repeat to yourself: “It’s the disease that’s causing his brain to change.” Then take some deep breaths and with every exhale let go of some more frustration. If you’re feeling triggered by a particularly repetitive story, try changing the subject and use props to help in this if needed. Since your dad may revert back to the same old catalogue of stories to fill any silences, try keeping him occupied and engaged on topics you both enjoy.
With acceptance comes peace of mind, so take each visit as it comes and be kind to yourself along the way. I wish you and your dad the very best
Battle of the Spouses – What do I do when my husband forgets that he’s been asked about decisions and argues with me about it?
Dear Dementia Solutions:
“I don’t know how to respond to my husband’s insistence that he’s being left out of certain conversations or decisions. He often makes statements such as, “No one told me about this!” or “No one asked for my opinion!” The truth is he was consulted in these instances and agreed to the decisions, but due to his dementia he can’t recall this. What can I do when he refuses to believe me?”
Dear ARGUMENT EXHAUSTION:
Yours is a common question that I’ve heard many times during my career as a dementia consultant. Rather than getting trapped in the cycle of a never-ending argument about what was said and who is right, try shifting your strategy by veering away from “conflict mode” to an approach that aims to diffuse the tension.
To start, imagine how the situation is perceived from your husband’s point of view. What if you couldn’t recollect your own past discussions? What if you truly couldn’t remember being consulted about a decision and felt left out as a result? You would likely feel even worse if someone told you in a frustrated tone, “But I did tell you! You just can’t remember!” It may feel upsetting, embarrassing, and could potentially spark further arguments, leaving both you and the other party in a bad mood.
Instead of fighting a losing battle in attempting to convince your husband of the truth, take a different tact by saying something such as, “I’m sorry you feel this way. You know I care very much for you and would never want to upset you.” You can even say, “I’m sorry. I’ll do my best to make sure this doesn’t happen again.” Speaking this way in a gentle tone and saying “I’m sorry” may deactivate your husband’s “fight” response. Once he no longer feels attacked and a sense of calm is restored, shift the conversation to a different topic.
Remember that there are usually no winners in a “he said/she said” debate. Attempting to reason with someone with dementia is an uphill climb because reasoning abilities are often impaired by the condition. You will find that a better option is usually just a simple “I’m sorry,” even if you know you did nothing wrong. By creating a more positive and harmonious living environment, both you and your husband will be more at ease. At the end of the day it all comes down to one all-important question: Would you rather be “right” or at peace? J
Do you have a specific question relating to dementia that you need answered? Please submit your questions by email to: [email protected]
Karen Tyrell CDP, CPCA, is a Dementia Consultant & Educator, and Founder of Personalized Dementia Solutions Inc. (www.dementiasolutions.ca). She also authored the book “Cracking the Dementia Code: Creative Solutions to Cope with Changed Behaviours.” Karen offers her expertise on dementia care through speaking engagements, workshops and by working one-on-one with families and caregivers to provide emotional support and practical solutions.
The contents of this column are provided for information purposes only. They are not intended to replace clinical diagnosis or medical advice from a health professional. For any health related issue, always seek medical advice first from a trained medical professional.