Care Blog

How to Best Respond When Alzheimer’s Distorts Memories

Dementia confusion, a typical occurrence in Alzheimer's, can lead to recent memories being forgotten about or distorted, while those from the more distant past commonly continue to be intact. This may cause the past to make more sense to an older person with dementia than the present. A person’s alternative reality could be his or her way of making sense of the present through past experiences.

Seniors with Alzheimer's disease very often have difficulty expressing themselves, and when Alzheimer’s distorts memories, sometimes the alternate reality has more to do with a physical need or a distinct feeling they are making an attempt to express than it has to do with the words they are saying.

For instance:

  • “When is my wife going to be home?” This question may be more about the need for affection or acceptance or a home-cooked meal than it could be about wanting to see his wife, who passed away many years ago. An appropriate reaction to find out more might be, “Why are you wanting to see her?”
  • “I need to deliver all these casseroles to our neighbors before the end of the afternoon.” Even though these casseroles do not exist, the words could perhaps indicate a need for purpose in day-to-day life or wanting to be engaged in an activity. A good reply to find out more could be, “Why did you make casseroles for your neighbors?”

Keeping a log of these sorts of events may help you see a pattern in the senior's dementia confusion. The more you listen in and pay close attention, the easier it will become to recognize the thinking behind the alternate reality and the best way to respond.

Is It Okay to Play Along?

As long as the situation isn't going to be dangerous or inappropriate, it is perfectly fine to go along with the senior's alternate reality. Doing this will not make the dementia worse. Keep in mind, the senior's reality is accurate to him/her and playing along can make your loved one feel more comfortable.

If the scenario is inappropriate or might cause harm to the older person, try to reply to the perceived need while redirecting him/her to something safer or more appropriate.

Bear in mind the following three actions:

  1. Reassure the senior.
  2. Respond to his/her need.
  3. Redirect if required.

Also, call on the caregiving team at New Horizons In-Home Care, providing home care in Salem and the greater area with specialized Alzheimer’s care. Our care professionals are available to offer compassionate, professional respite care services for family members who could use some time away to rest and recharge. Call us any time to learn more at 503-400-3000 or contact us online.

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