Dear Dementia Solutions Spring 2016 Issue

March 2016

Turning a “No” into a “Yes” – How Do I Deal with My Common-Law Husband’s Constant Refusal to Do Things?

Dear Dementia Solutions:

“It’s become very difficult dealing with my common-law husband, since his favourite word has become “No!” I know it’s his dementia speaking, but I don’t know what to do when he refuses to eat, leave the house, or even get out of bed in the morning. I feel constantly frustrated. What should I do?”

~Concerned Common-Law Wife

Dear concerned common law wife:

Hearing “no” all the time would be aggravating for anyone. You’re understandably stressed and that’s why my first piece of advice is to ensure that you’re taking breaks and engaging in activities that bring you enjoyment and peace of mind. For family caregivers, such as yourself, managing the challenging behaviour of a loved one with dementia can be a full-time job, so taking a few moments during a hectic day to take a deep breath can be greatly beneficial.

Reducing your stress may also have a positive dual effect in helping your common-law husband become more cooperative. An individual with dementia may often be more receptive to what is unsaid compared to what is said. Instead of grasping the content of your words or the reasoning behind it, they may be more attuned to your underlying emotions. If they sense your anxiety and frustration whenever you request them to do something, this may cause them to dig in their heels even more.

Instead of reacting with irritation, practice approaching your common-law husband in a relaxed demeanour by pretending that what you are asking of him is no big deal. Try this technique out first before a real outing, to see if it works. For example, you could casually ask him, “Hey, I’m off to get a treat at the coffee shop. Want to join me?” If he responds with a “no”, then simply say, “Okay, no worries. I just didn’t want you to miss out.” Reacting to his refusal in a manner and tone that is calm and stress-free may get him to change his mind. If he still doesn’t show interest in going to the coffee shop with you and asks why you didn’t go out, just tell him that you changed your mind and got busy with other tasks. Communicating with him in a laid-back way may work wonders in diluting his anxieties and softening his resistance.

Remember that the trick to this strategy is to do your best at playing the part of being worry-free about his refusals. This may not be an easy feat and the results may not always be successful, but it could mean hearing fewer “no’s” during the day and more “yes’s”— so give it a go! J

 Truth Telling or Truth Hiding – How Should I Respond to My Mother When She Asks Me About Individuals Who Have Passed On?

Dear Dementia Solutions:

“When I visit my mum at the nursing home, where she lives due to her dementia, she often asks me about people who have passed on, who she thinks are still alive. I don’t want to lie to her but I also don’t want to upset her by telling her that the people she is inquiring about are dead. Should I tell her the truth or protect her from it?”

~Answering Anxiety

Dear answering anxiety:

Though we’ve all been taught that telling the truth is the right answer, in the case of caring for someone with dementia, this does not always hold true. Sometimes the truth may need to be hidden from an individual affected by dementia in order to protect them from becoming overly agitated and upset.

In the case of your mother, the dementia that is causing her confusion and impairing her memory may also render her unable to cope with the reality that certain individuals, who she thinks are alive, are actually dead. Imagine forgetting that a loved one has passed on and having to relive the pain of that loss all over again. It would cause anyone to feel distraught. Remember that your mother’s emotional state and comfort is the main priority, so if you feel the truth risks causing her undue distress, it is likely best to conform to her perception of reality instead of trying to force reality onto her.

The next time your mother asks about an individual who has passed on, who she believes is still alive, try casually answering that they are doing just fine and then attempt to shift the focus to a different subject. Bringing a prop along, such as a picture book or magazine, can be helpful in redirecting her attention.

Also try replying to her question with a question of your own and then agreeing with her response. For example, if she asks, “How is my brother Mike doing?” you can respond by saying, “Well, where would he be this time of the year, during the summer?” By doing this she may be able to answer her own question in a way that brings her comfort. Perhaps she enjoys thinking about her brother Mike going sailing every summer. You can then nod along and affirm her statement by saying, “Yes, he loves sailing.”

Though employing these strategies for the first time may feel uncomfortable, remind yourself that you are keeping your mother’s best interests in mind by helping her feel at ease. Focusing on making the moments you spend with her enjoyable and comfortable will help enhance both her sense of well-being and yours as well. All the best!

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 for Personalized Dementia Solutions Inc. ( and the author of the book “Cracking the Dementia Code – Creative Solutions to Cope with Changed Behaviours.” She offers her expertise on dementia care through speaking engagements, workshops and by working one-on-one with families and caregivers.