Avoiding conflict with loved ones who have dementia

Dementia blogger Susan Macauley has shared the below advice about the importance of avoiding arguments with people who have dementia. Let us know your thoughts – it’s not always easy to change the way we behave towards our loved ones and telling ‘untruths’ doesn’t come easily to honest people.

Here at Right at Home our CareGivers are trained to communicate with their dementia clients by stepping into their reality and validating it, even if this includes statements that we know are false, as we strongly believe this minimises their distress.

Susan, who writes myalzheimersstory.com says: “I spent years arguing with Mom and exacerbating no-win situations before I realized debate only created more anger and angst. By arguing, I became the cause of her “bad behaviour.” It wasn’t the disease, it was me; it wasn’t her fault, it was mine. Had I put myself in her shoes, I would have saved us both a lot of aggravation.

“BANGS is an acronym for five ways anyone can use to avert and defuse conflict with people who live with Alzheimer’s dementia.“B” is for breathe; “A” is for assess, accept and agree; and “N” reminds us to never, never argue.

Arguing with someone with dementia gets you nowhere. It just adds to everyone’s frustration and creates an environment where more conflict is likely to occur. I remember one occasion when we were out for dinner with my uncle, his daughter, my brother, his wife and their two teenaged children. 

“His hair was jet black when he was little,” Mom said about my brother’s son.

“No, it’s always been brown,” my sister-in-law countered.

“No it wasn’t. It was black,” Mom shot back.

“I’m his mother, I should know,” my sister-in-law’s voice rose several octaves.

A heated row ensued over the colour of my nephew’s hair, which is definitely brown, not black. But who cares? Had my sister-in-law agreed with Mom instead of arguing with her, we might have enjoyed our dinner in peace.

This is not confined to “natural” care partners. Many paid care workers are unaware they create problems by the way they talk to and treat people with dementia.

For example, I once observed a caregiver in a tug-of-war with my mom.

“That’s not yours honey,” the caregiver said as she tried to pull a small object from Mom’s grasp.

“It is so. It’s mine!”

“No it’s not!”

“Yes, it is!”

“Give it to me. NOW.”

“NO.”

It was like kindergarten gone bad. Finally, Mom slapped the caregiver on the wrist, and the caregiver yanked the object away.

That’s how many people with dementia get branded “aggressive” and “violent,” and why far too many are given harmful and largely ineffective anti-psychotic drugs. We have the power and the responsibility to change these responsive behaviours by changing how we behave ourselves. The minute I stopped arguing with Mom, things greatly improved. They say you should “never say never;” dementia communication is the exception to the rule. When you feel you like you might end up in a “shoot-out” with someone with dementia, use my “BANGS” to stop other “bangs” before they happen.”

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