i’m sorry is hard, but it may also be the most powerful part of BANGS

6

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It’s an afternoon in October 2015. Mom appears to be asleep in the recliner. I lean over and put my hands on either side of the chair. My face is about arms length from hers.

“Patti?” I say to check if she’s really sleeping or just resting.

When she opens her eyes, I know immediately things won’t be easy today. But I have a proven five-pronged strategy to help: BANGS.

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BANGS is a mnemonic for ways to defuse conflict with people like Mom who live with Alzheimer’s / dementia.

  1. “B” is for breathe;
  2. “A” is for assess, accept and agree;
  3. “N” reminds us to never argue
  4. “G” is for go with the flow, let go of your ego, get on with it and get over it.
  5. “S” is for say you’re sorry

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“Wa wa wa wh what are you talking about?” Mom says before I have a chance to say anything at all.

“I was talking about nothing,” I say agreeably.

“I didn’t think you were talking about nothing because I was talking about nothing,” she says, sharp.

“We were both talking about nothing,” I chuckle.

“Well that’s stupid!” She spits at me, face taut, eyes blazing.

“It was stupid, Mom,” I laugh again. I’m delighted she’s awake, which she mostly is not when I come to visit. “I’m a silly billy eh Mom? What’s that on your face Mom? It looks like cake.” I smile. She glares back. “I’m happy to see you Mom,” I say.

“Well I’m not happy to see you.” Mom’s face is a storm cloud.

“You’re not?”

“No. You’re stupid.”

“Are you mad at me Mom?”

“Yeah.”

“What have I done?”

“Well, it’s stupid.” I have no idea what stupid thing she might be talking about, or what she believes I have done, but I know what to do.

“I did a stupid thing?” I say.

“Yeah.”

“I’m sorry Mom. Is there anything I can do to fix it?”

“No. You can’t fix it.”

“I’m sorry Mom.” I genuinely AM sorry. I really wish I could fix it. In no way am I pretending or fibbing. She lifts her right hand hand and starts tapping my cheek like she does when she gives me “love taps,” but harder. It stings ever so slightly, but doesn’t hurt at all. It’s a more intense version of the love taps she adores giving. She is a wheelchair-bound 87-year-old woman living with dementia. She can’t hurt me.

“Sorry. Sorry. What difference does that make? It was stupid,” she says as she keeps “slapping/tapping” me.

“I know Mom. I’m sorry. Are these love taps or mad taps?”

Mad taps. Mad taps.” She taps faster, grits her teeth. I don’t care that she’s tapping/slapping me; it helps release whatever is bothering her. No harm done. Once she gets up, out of the recliner, and rolling in the wheelchair, her mood gradually improves. Mom loves to be on the go. It takes about 45 minutes and a whole lot more ‘I’m sorry’s’ to get rid of the crankiness, but that’s okay with me, we all have bad days – why should she be any different? The thing about “I’m sorry” is that it’s hard for anyone, even someone with dementia, to stay angry at somebody who keeps apologizing.

 

See the 7 tips on saying I’m sorry from Teepa and me here.

If you don’t want to end up in a “shoot-out” with a person living with dementia, use BANGS to get through the rough patch and onto higher ground.

Remember:

  1. “B” is for breathe.
  2. “A” is for assess, accept, and agree.
  3. “N” is for never, never argue
  4. “G” is for go with the flow, let go of your ego, get on with it and get over it.
  5. “S” is for say you’re sorry

See also: Teepa Snow demos 10 ways to calm a crisis with a person with dementia

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6 Comments

  1. Susan, my mother-in-law is 93 years old with vascular dementia. I can do nothing right. All the neurologists believe no one can change her mind that she believes I have stolen everything from her. Her clothes, her sterling silver tea set, even her toaster. Now she believes I stole her car. My husband argues with her. Due to my husband’s bi-polar son he got his hands on a slums test and brought it to a lawyer. At 29 years old he got POA & POA for Health Care and did nothing. My mother-in-law does not remember signing this paperwork. Then 12 days later she signed POA to a Conservator and her lawyer. She constantly argues with my husband that she does not want “that woman” around. It has been court ordered that she have a conservator and a guardian. She does not remember signing any of these documents when she was not competent. We have spent several thousands of dollars trying to get this reversed. How do we handle her on Thanksgiving? We cannot bring her to our house as she is in a wheelchair and we have many steps – so we are going out to dinner. Any advice will be helpful.

    • Wow Laura – I’m so sorry you find yourself in this situation 🙁

      With respect to the legal side, I can’t really offer any advice. I live in Canada and we have a whole different system.

      On the personal side, what I can say is that there is absolutely no point in arguing with her. And you may actually be better off if your husband took her side: “I’m sorry all this has happened, and I can understand how you must feel.” etcteras

      When you keep arguing all it does is add fuel to the fire. Wherever possible agree with her. That means letting go of your ego and any attachment you have to being right.

      There’s no point in being angry, or hurt or frustrated. Although I know how irritating, hurtful and frustrating it all is! But if you can stop arguing and start agreeing all the time, I think you’ll find it much easier. Also, give yourself a break and breathe. You’re doing the best that you can and all these accusations come from the disease, not from the person…

      This I’m sorry post is the last in the series called BANGS. The other posts give tips and tools which you might find useful, so I suggest you take a look at those – there are links to the other articles in this article.

      Other than that, if you would like to speak with me directly to brainstorm some ideas I’d be happy to do that. I would need to have your phone number and time zone. You can email me here: susan@amazingwomenrock.com

  2. Susan,
    Beautiful illustration of using your phenomenal mnemonic “Bangs” teachings in this conversation with your mom. Please know that I have a lot of admiration and acknowledge how difficult and frustrating at times for the caregiver, but this strategy truly helps and works. Thanks for all your great tips and advice. I continue to wish you and your mom all the best through this journey.
    Cheryl Croce, CDP

      • Susan, you are so kind and thoughtful for sharing my new website. I am flattered to be included among all the other wonderful contributors. I continue to find so much wealth of knowledge in reading your articles especially “I’m Sorry” using “Bangs” formula because while a person living with dementia may not remember exactly what you or someone else said to them, they will remember how it made them feel. A smile and saying sorry goes such a long way!

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