How to Win Dementia Arguments

How to Win Dementia Arguments

So, here are useful words and phrases to use while arguing with people with dementia. Ready?

Okay, here goes:

1. Uh-huh;
2. Really?
3. I know.
4. You do?
5. Okay then.

You can’t possibly lose a dementia argument using these. Oh, did I mention that no-one ever wins a dementia argument. You don’t win, because people with dementia can’t follow step-by-step rational thought processing. The person with dementia doesn’t win because you won’t let them. You want to prove you’re right and they’re wrong.

This leads to the classic dementia “No-win, no-win” standoff which upsets everyone. It creates a climate of fear for the person with dementia. It creates a sense of hopeless frustration for the caregiver. And it really doesn’t have to be like that.

Here’s the dirty little secret hidden in your arguments with the person with dementia. Okay, now listen carefully and I’ll whisper. You’re angry. You’re very angry and you’re taking it out on your person. What does this ugly truth mean?

It means you’re tired. Exhausted. Not getting enough sleep. Not getting time off and time out. It means you need a break. It might mean you need to forgive this person for having dementia. Forgive yourself for being angry, frightened and overwhelmed.

You will always get your reasonable way by doing things that follow the dementia path of thinking. Don’t ever even discuss what you want the person to do. Simply arrange your day so it’s being done. Make the appointment, take them for a drive, stop at the door, walk them in and — shazzam! — you’re in the doctor’s office.

Don’t ask and don’t tell is a great way to do awkward dementia discussion. If you don’t want the answer no, don’t ask the question that evokes it. Just make the plans.

I know it goes against everything that we think of as decent behavior. Secrecy, lying by default, manipulation — but those are not necessarily all bad all the time. Some of the time, it’s the only way you can get someone to see their doctor, to have their feet checked out, to change their clothes.

It works for appointments. It works for a lot of situations. For example, your husband is fiddling with stuff in the drawer. It makes you crazy. You demand that he stops. I bet that worked really well for you, huh?

So let’s reframe that. Let’s roll time back a bit. To the moment when you understand that your husband needs to have fiddling time. Because, as your compassionate heart understands, he feels useless, empty, bored with nothing to do. So you have made him his own activity drawer and you have put locks on all the other drawers.

Next time he wants to fiddle, he can do it. You’re calm, he’s calm, everything’s fine.

Let’s try a more difficult situation.

He says, “When’s Mom coming over?”

Instead of precipitating a heartbreaking row, by telleing him she’s dead, you say something neutral like, “I can’t say,honey.”

When he asks again, as you know he will, then you say, “Oh honey, I know you miss your Mom.”

He says, “I haven’t seen her for such a long time.”

You say, “Uh-huh.”

He might say, “I miss her.”

You say, “I know.”

See how that worked? You didn’t lie. You supported him. You didn’t contradict. That’s a conversation that leaves two people calm.

The art of dementia conversation is really in understanding what’s actually being talked about and having compassion.

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3 thoughts on “How to Win Dementia Arguments

  1. Really nice article! You’ve opened up the ‘win’ situations: don’t ask questions that might be a ‘no’, just make the plans that need to be made; *make* a rummage drawer on purpose; and be present for someone who is remembering a part of life (Mom) that is still important, will always be important to him. I’ve thought about writing a thesis on the kind of words and phrases to use that keep things going forward. Thanks for yours! I look forward to more of your articles. Tryn Rose at

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