Are You a Constant Corrector? Letting Go of Being Right with People Living with Dementia
Imagine being told several times every day that you are incorrect about a statement, perception, date, place, or a simple memory. Imagine the feelings of frustration, shame, and embarrassment that is felt when you are constantly corrected or just told out right that “you are wrong.”
Then imagine the person constantly being corrected has dementia. The confusion and the distorted sense of time passing for people living memory loss is caused by damage to the brain cells and not the attempt to “lie” about something. The “altered reality” is real to the person and should be supported rather than confronted.
So why do people constantly correct someone? Often the person may be a “black and white thinker,” or have a nature to believe that everything is either “right or wrong.” Letting go of things that don’t quite fit their ideas is difficult and upsets them. This causes resentment to the person constantly being corrected, and pointing out the “wrong” or incorrect comments for a person with dementia creates feelings of inadequacies. The examples below may be helpful in understanding the importance of “letting go” of the need to correct people with dementia.
- Correcting the person living with memory will most often results in an argument. This will likely upset them and make them angry and create a situation that could easily be avoided and you will never win an argument with a person with dementia!
- Being corrected also may result in the person living with dementia feel they are being treated like a “child.” This can cause resentment and motivation to not share feelings or thoughts, or complete tasks.
- If a fact or memory is incorrect it really shouldn’t matter. It is your issue not theirs. I recall so vividly the shame and embarrassment of a man during an evaluation with me regarding his memory loss. He turn to me to apologize for getting a date wrong after his wife corrected him and insisted he served in World War II in 1943, not in 1963 as he had just told me with a huge smile on his face. The date was insignificant and his demeanor quickly turned from a proud veteran sharing a story to a very sad and humiliated man.
- Avoid asking a person with memory loss to remember. Correcting a person with dementia about what they had for breakfast is fruitless. The memory of breakfast cannot be stored because of the changes in the brain, thus the person cannot retrieve the memory.
- Avoid correcting a person living with memory loss that believes a deceased loved is still living. Often people with dementia are expecting their mother for lunch, who has been deceased for many years. Rather than “reminding your loved one that his/her mother had died, validate their need to talk about their mother and recall joyful events that the person shared with your loved one such as favorite foods. They will continue to relieve the sad news that their mom is dead if you continue to tell them.
- Take the blame rather than shame a person living in their altered reality. When the person is angry that the car keys are not where they had left them, even though they have not driven for years, blame yourself for misplacing them and assure you loved one that you will look for them.
- People living with memory loss may not “remember” what you corrected them about later in the day but they do remember how it made them feel.
If you, a friend or family member living with memory loss would be interested in learning more about our Memory Café, Virtual Support Group, or other services we provide, please contact Vicky Pitner at firstname.lastname@example.org