Stop trying to “convince” them

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Logic and dementia don’t mix.

What does that mean? It really means that using logic to “explain yourself” to someone living with dementia won’t work out well. So, saying to someone with dementia, “But you can’t eat lunch, because you already ate lunch” won’t compute. They don’t remember eating, they still feel hungry, and they think you’re making it up!

And then what happens? You fight. No one wins, and everyone is mad.

Don’t convince. Just EMBRACE THEIR REALITYTM

Check out this example from my time working as a Dementia Care Director.

“I want my pills,” Molly said. “Can you bring me my pills?” she asked a nearby staff member.

“I already brought them to you, you had your pills this morning,” the staff member replied kindly.

“No I didn’t, I want my pills now,” Molly shook her head.

“But I already gave them to you…” the staff member started.

“Hang on,” I offered, walking over. “I have a solution,” I said to the staff member.

“Hey, Molly, I’m going to bring you your pills in a little bit!” I smiled.

“Okay, thanks,” Molly said, and went back to eating her lunch.

What changed? Why did this work?

Instead of arguing or attempting to use logic with this resident, I embraced her reality.

Trying to “convince” her that she already took her medicine wasn’t going to work: she didn’t remember doing it, and so it didn’t happen.

I decided to get into her world and tell her the truth of her reality: that she’d be getting her pills soon. Of course, I never brought them to her, but hearing a positive confirmation calmed her down immediately.

Was this “lying”? No! When you’re lying, you’re making something up that will benefit YOU. When you’re Embracing Their RealityTM, you’re doing what’s best for THEM. You’re doing what’s true in their reality. It’s not a “therapeutic lie” or a “filblet” (blegh, I hate that word!) you’re living in their truth.

Have you ever dealt with a challenge like this when communicating with a person living with dementia? What happened? What worked?

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2 thoughts on “Stop trying to “convince” them”

  1. These FUNCTIONAL insights from Rachel work. I am trying to use this ‘tool’ automatically, so it comes forward in the moment. I think it requires mindful practice…..some way to set it deeply in me so it just rolls off my tongue rather than some sort of corrective, argumentative response that DOES NOT work!

    1. Thanks, Christi! You’ll get there: it will suddenly be automatic and you’ll be surprised at how easy it rolls off the tongue!

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

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