5 Tips: Visit your loved one and leave without a fight

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Beverly and her husband stood at the doorway of the care community, pointing fingers (literally) and arguing. 

“What do you mean, you’re ‘going home!’” she cried. “I’m coming with you!” 

“No,” Beverly’s husband argued back. “You live here now!”

We’ve all seen this same type of fight a million times, but how can you avoid it?

1. Don’t tell your loved one that you’re “going home.” When someone with dementia thinks about “home,” they probably aren’t thinking that the place where they currently live is “home.” They may be expecting to go with you, and this starts a huge fight over the definition of “home.”

2. Never tell your loved one, “You live here now.” This is always the start of a major argument. People with dementia have a hard time understanding logic, even when presented in a logical way. Something that makes sense to you and I does not always make sense to someone with dementia.

3. DO tell your loved one that you’ll “be back soon.” This is true. You don’t need to tell them when, but you can leave your loved one’s room and say, “Hey mom, I’ll be back soon.” This is a perfectly reasonable way to leave. You didn’t say that you were going home, and you didn’t have to come up with an excuse.

4. Come up with a reason why you can’t take them home right now. Things like, “My car is packed full of stuff and I can’t fit you right now,” or, “I’m going to the doctor and I’ll be waiting in the waiting room for a long time,” are good reasons to not take a person home. Remember that, in dementia care, it’s okay to take the word “lying” and throw it out of your vocabulary. It’s all about living in their world.

5. Get your loved one involved in an activity before leaving. I’ve literally watched families run to the door of a care community, which usually isn’t the nicest way to exit. Bring your loved one to the next arts and crafts project, to listen to the guy playing piano, or to a meal. Don’t just ditch and run—take a moment to ensure that they are actively engaged in something fun.

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Rachael Wonderlin has a Master’s in Gerontology and is the author of two published books with Johns Hopkins University Press. She owns Dementia By Day, a dementia care consulting company.

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