Like many dementia care partners, I spent years arguing with my mother and exacerbating no-win situations before I became aware that 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 and other kinds of dementias.
This post is about never, never arguing. 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. Imagine this conversation at a family dinner:
“His hair was jet black when he was little,” the person with dementia (PWD) says about his grandson.
“No, it’s always been brown,” the boy’s mother counters.
“No it wasn’t. It was black,” the grandfather with dementia shoots back.
“I’m his mother, I should know,” the boy’s mother’s voice rises an octave or two.
A heated row ensues over the colour of the boy’s hair, which has always definitely been brown, not black. But who cares? The argument could have been averted had the daughter simply agreed with her father about the colour of her son’s hair.
This tendency to argue is not confined to “natural” care partners. Many paid care workers in institutions such as long-term care facilities, nursing homes, and hospitals are unaware they create problems by the way they talk to and treat people with dementia. Imagine this scenario:
“That’s not yours honey,” the caregiver says as she tried to pull a small object from an old woman’s grasp.
“It is so. It’s mine!”
“No it’s not!”
“Yes, it is!”
“Give it to me. NOW.”
The old woman with dementia slaps the caregiver on the arm as the caregiver yanks the object away.
If you think it sounds like kindergarten gone bad, you’re right! That’s just what it’s like, and situations like these are why 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 care partners stop arguing with their loved ones and others they interact with who have dementia, things greatly improve. I know it from personal experience and there’s stacks of research to prove it.
Dementia communication is perhaps the only place where that old cliché about “never say never” never applies!
Don’t want to end up in a “shoot-out” with a PWD? Use BANGS.