When a relative doesn’t “get it” that a loved one has dementia

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Let’s pretend you have four siblings. You and three of your siblings understand that mom has dementia. You get it: you have been changing the way that you speak to her. You’ve been adjusting her care accordingly. You’ve been teaching dad about Embracing Her Reality and how to avoid an argument. You guys have been kicking butt with keeping everything positive. 

Aaaaaaand, then there’s your one brother. He’s not on board. In fact, he’s way off-board. He’s mad, he’s confused, he’s frustrated, and every time he comes into town he yells at mom, makes lists and charts for her, and demands that everyone start following his lead. “Mom is just a little forgetful!” he yells at you and your siblings. “We have to REMIND her that her dog died! Every time she asks, we need to remind her that the dog is dead.”

For nearly every family of care partners I meet, there’s ONE person who just. doesn’t. get. it. 

And this is hard on everyone else, because here’s the problem: he may never “get it.” You can hit him with all the education in the world. I often jokingly say to families who ask me about a relative like this, “Send him a copy of my book!” but I do mean it as a joke, because, in all truth, I know this guy isn’t going to read it. 

Dementia care is really hard. It’s tough to teach because there’s never a one-size-fits-all answer to a lot of questions. So here’s my advice for dealing with that one relative who just doesn’t get it: do your best, and lead by example. When I teach, I find that stories and examples work best. 

You can only do your best. That’s it. If he’s open to information, that’s great: maybe he’ll check out my blog or another resource on positive dementia care and learn something. But if he’s not? All you can do is press forward, and, hopefully, avoid his counsel when it comes to big care decisions. 

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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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