“I wonder why we feel such a strong need to make them see reality?” Jenny mused during our coaching session. “I used to tell myself every morning: ‘today I will NOT argue with Dad or try to make him see reality, and yet every day I’d eventually crack.’”
Jenny had just finished reading “never, never argue is the ‘N’ in BANGS,” and was doing some self-examination. We were exploring ways she might behave differently to reduce the stress she was experiencing as a care partner to her mother.
“Like your post said, who the hell cares if his hair was brown or black!!? Yet I waged such an internal battle with myself. ‘Don’t argue!’ I would say to myself and twenty minutes later I would lose my patience and try to get him to see reality – not HIS reality, MY reality!”
Jenny had lost her father to dementia and was caring for her Mom, who also had the disease.
“Now that Dad is gone,” she said. “I’m pretty good with Mom. I don’t want to repeat the mistakes I made with Dad. But I still ‘crack’ and insist she’s mistaken from time to time, even though I know it doesn’t work.”
Jenny’s words caused me to do some reflection of my own after our Skype call. Sometimes it seems we can’t help arguing, even when we know it’s ineffective and can escalate situations that we could easily defuse if we had our wits about us. When things get “pear shaped,” we sometimes blow up and then feel guilty afterward about losing control.
Here are some of the factors that may be at play when normally calm care partners lose their cool and forget the “never never argue” dementia golden rule:
Ego is how we see ourselves. It’s the part of us that knows we are important and able, that we matter, that we count. Ego wants us to be right, maybe even more so when we know the other person is clearly and unequivocally wrong! Letting go of our own ego to bolster someone else’s isn’t easy, but it can work wonders in helping a loved one who lives with dementia reaffirm their own selfhood.
Being a caregiver, particularly to someone who lives with dementia, is often physically, emotionally and psychologically draining. Many care partners lack proper support, have little respite and become so worn out they are unable to function properly at even a basic level. It’s virtually impossible to behave rationally when one’s energetic reserves are completely drained. Put the oxygen on yourself first; get some rest.
Never-ending and seemingly insurmountable challenges of all shapes and sizes, unfixable situations, insoluble problems, constant repetition, being on the receiving end of abuse from various quarters – all of these result in levels of frustration that are hard to imagine unless you’ve lived them. Sometimes that frustration gets the best of us and we snap.
4) getting stuck in unproductive patterns
We all know the cliché “it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks.” Although an increasing number of young people are being drafted into caregiving roles, a far greater number of us are longer in the tooth and have likely engaged with our care partners in certain ways for a lifetime. We’ve got “baggage.” It’s hard to break old patterns, and to employ new tricks that deliver better results.
5) lack of knowledge
Alzheimer’s and other dementias are relatively new diseases. Until recently, behavioural expressions such as aggression were believed to be caused exclusively by the disease. Now we know behavioural expressions are more often than not responses to environmental factors and the way we interact with people who live with dementia. With that understanding, we have begun to develop new tools and techniques that enable us to engage more effectively with people who live with dementia. But not everyone is aware of those techniques, and you can’t use tools you don’t know about.
6) lack of practice
Once we’ve been introduced to more effective behavioural tools, techniques and skills, it takes time to master them. Practice makes perfect as they say. But it’s hard to practice when we’re exhausted, frustrated, stuck in old patterns and not able to let go of our ego!
The next time you find yourself arguing with someone who lives with dementia, it may be helpful to take a step back and ask yourself what’s going on. Identifying what lies behind your behaviour is a first step toward changing it and creating a calmer and more peaceful environment for everyone. Awareness may also help you to stop feeling guilty and/or beating yourself up for falling into the arguing trap. We’re only human; we need to give ourselves a break!
Remember all that <3
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