How Joe stopped arguing with his mom

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“Mom’s room is a mess!” Joe complained. “Every time I go in there, we argue about her clothes! She’s got them strewn all over the floor, and she keeps claiming that they don’t belong to her.”

It was true. Joe and his mom, Bethany, argued nonstop when he came to visit her at our dementia care community.

He’d go into her room, find her dirty clothes stuck into drawers, and get mad at her. “Those aren’t mine!” she’d insist, when, of course, she had stuck them in the drawer only an hour before.

When Joe had moved his mom into our community, he felt like he was doing her a favor when he threw out all of her old tops and got her new ones. His wife had sewn Bethany’s name into each article of clothing so that she’d “recognize it as her own.” Unfortunately, however, despite the name tag, Bethany no longer recognized the new clothes.

“These aren’t mine!” she’d yell, her eyes full of tears, pointing to the clothes in her closet. “Ugh, mom!” Joe would exclaim. “I just got you those, and look! We labeled them for you!”

Joe came to me, exhausted, looking for a solution to end the battles with his mom.

“Stop going in her room,” I said. “What do you mean?” he asked.

“I mean, don’t go in her room when you visit her. Come here, get her to come out in the hallway, and then hang out in common spaces. You can’t help yourself, Joe! You point out what’s wrong with her room, and she can’t help herself, either: she’s confused. She’s confused, and then she fights back. Stay out of her room,” I explained.

Joe took my advice (begrudgingly) and stayed out of his mom’s room the next time that he came to visit. Instead, he sat in the dining room with her and they enjoyed lunch together. 

They stopped fighting, and, finally, started getting along again. Joe realized that seeing her room (and, really, her confusion in full-swing) was a big trigger for him. When he got upset, she got upset. By removing his own trigger, he added some positivity to his relationship with Bethany. 

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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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