WHY YOU DON’T ARGUE WITH A PERSON WITH DEMENTIA OR DELUSIONS

The elderly person with dementia, who has a persistent fixed incorrect idea or delusion, is literally unable to change their mind. The idea might be harmless, as in the case of the elderly woman who insisted she was always on a train. Or it might be dangerous as the person who is insisting he has to leave and go to work, when he hasn’t worked for many years. Harmless or not, these ideas frighten the family or caregiver because it demonstrates irrational thinking.  Using rational explanations or arguing doesn’t work when the person is unable to change their mind.

5 ways to address delusions without arguing:

  1. Let it go if at all possible. If the idea is not dangerous, doesn’t bother the person or others, let it go.
  2. If the idea or delusion is frightening, such as the woman who thought people were living on her patio, give reassuring , comforting words. “I am here and will stay with you,” while you use a distracting activity.
  3. A delusion might be an expression of some fear. Look to the environment. Are there shadows, do you need more light, are curtain or shades open at night creating reflections on a window?
  4. Support the feelings the person expresses, not the delusion.
  5. Ask the person to show you what they see. The shadow on a wall, when reality is distorted, may become a ghost to the confused.

Many delusions are just plain hurtful, as with the spouse who is no longer recognized and is accused of being an impostor. Some delusions are very embarrassing for the family, and require understanding and the education of others.  Well meaning friends and acquaintances may intercede and begin arguing the irrational  idea or delusion. Look at this as an opportunity to educate other people, so that they may support you, in creating your plan of care for this person.

When caring for the individual with irrational ideas, you never argue these thoughts away.

Virginia Garberding RN

Certified in Gerontology and Restorative Nursing