Here's a rock. Now, beat your head against it.
Updated: Sep 16
I was slow to come to this particular epiphany. It's understandable. As dementia caregivers we are continually adapting to the journey; the early years often burdened with the steepest learning curves.
And while the longer I tread this path the more adept I've become, there are still times in this sojourn where the logical world I inhabit impedes me from quickly adjusting to the irrationality of dementia.
I've seen lots of posts on social media that leads me to believe my experience is not a one-off; beating our heads against a rock with "logical" solutions to dementia's illogical equations is a stumbling block for most of us as we link arms with our dementia loved on this maddening adventure.
A frantic daughter recently posted that she was receiving phone calls from her mom's memory care facility asking her to fix the problem of her late-stage dementia mom refusing to wear a mask. Unable to visit the facility, she didn't know what to do.
Another daughter vented about all the things she now has to tell her dementia dad - big things that are important to keep him healthy and safe -
but constantly repeating sentences that begin with
"Dad, you must..." are destroying her peace of mind.
So here's what I know from my experience: Dementia caregiving is all problem solving all the time. (Often solving the same damn problem over and over again 'cause the old solutions have ceased to work.) And the further your dementia loved one is in their progression the more irrational these problems become.
On my "Caregiver of the Year!" days, the first tactic I pull out of my problem solving toolkit is this little nugget...
Mid-to-late stage dementia people DON'T HAVE TO do anything.
(If you are still working under the assumption that they do your dementia person will have no qualms about aggressively disagreeing with you through verbal rants, physically lashing-out, and/or other unpleasant means of communication at their disposal making you wish they still possessed the skill of spitting expletives in your face!)
When I'm on my caregiver-game, approaching the problem with the knowledge that Mom's reaction to anything is no longer a valid solution makes landing on a workable answer a helluva lot easier. When I'm in caregiver-fail mode and that bit of intel slips my mind, I waste precious energy making our little world problems a lot bigger than they need be. Case in point:
Since her bout of COVID-19 Mom has been less steady on her feet, with sudden drops in blood pressure resulting in southern-belle like swoons, knocking her to the ground and scaring the bejeezus out of us, especially when she's close to the stairs.
Equation: Mom Faints on Stairs + Breaks her Neck = Mom has to Stay Off Stairs
I "solved" this by angrily snapping at her every time she approached the landing.
"Mom! You have to stay off the stairs! It's not safe."
Her answer to my solution was a roaring rejection of "NO!"
and then hefty glares of hatred.
Eventually, I remembered my toolkit's number one weapon: Mom DOESN'T HAVE TO do anything. So, I changed the equation.
Mom has to Stay Off Stairs + We Need a Barrier = Homemade Dementia Gate
So I concocted this travesty of a barricade...
... and stopped trying to force Mom's dementia to comply with my logical world - a much better solution for us all achieved by changing the equation. (In a couple of weeks she'll have ripped it to shreds - I'm already plotting my next duct tape atrocity.)
So, when a late-stage dementia person isn't adhering to wearing a mask? No shit. Tell the genius who thought that was gonna fly to rethink the equation. When your dad's dementia is putting him in danger and verbal reminders to keep him safe are flying fast and furious to no avail? Well, I still fall into that trap, and I still gotta remind myself that dementia is gonna do what dementia is gonna do - I gotta be the one to rethink the equations to keep our #1 Dementia Denizen in this household clean, safe, healthy, and the rest of us (somewhat) sane.
And when I don't? Well, here's my rock. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm gonna go beat my head against it.