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Trying to Explain Memory Loss to Dementia-Affected Loved One?
Posted: Thursday, May 28, 2020 4:19 PM
Joined: 5/18/2020
Posts: 7

I would really appreciate input on this topic.  My father with dementia often says "What's wrong with me?" "Why can't I remember things?" "I don't understand what's happening."  So he clearly has awareness of the fact that he's not feeling right and his brain isn't working the way he wants.  He's still able to put certain things together.  He still knows who my mom is and all of us kids.  But there are other daily realities (following longer conversations) that he cannot grasp.

I don't want to upset him, but I often wonder if it's worth trying (harder) to explain to him what's going on.  Sometimes my mom says "It's okay, you're having some issues with your memory."  This doesn't seem to satisfy him.  And sometimes I wonder if we are shortchanging him by shying away from trying to explain what's happening to him.

It's a tradeoff between wanting to respect his intelligence (he's clearly aware enough to know something's wrong), and not wanting to stress him out by saying "Dad, you're having memory issues.  Let me try to explain..."  

I realize he might not be able to grasp the concept even if I try to explain what's happening.  But I'm often torn between truth and placation.  Trying to honor his intelligence, and trying to determine what will give him the most peace of mind.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated.  

Posted: Thursday, May 28, 2020 4:53 PM
Joined: 5/17/2020
Posts: 3

This seems to be the ever present issue, doesn't it? 

I've tried to be very forthright with my mom about her memory loss and I'm starting to think I should go the other route and distract/appease her. Trying to explain things just makes her more confused and angry. 

Lately I've just been saying "Oh, it's ok, that's hard to remember for anyone", stuff like that. 

Maybe it would be best to respond to him with questions to get him onto another track? When he says 'what's wrong with me' maybe you can reply 'I don't know, are you feeling tired?' or maybe 'you're probably just hungry, let's make lunch'...

Posted: Friday, May 29, 2020 6:41 PM
Joined: 8/12/2019
Posts: 35

ForPops -- You've articulated well the question we all have at some point. I don't have an answer for you -- only a little insight based on my experience with my mother. We have generally bucked the conventional wisdom of fibbing to her about most things because she has always been a very direct person. But when it comes to her own condition, she is largely in denial about her physical and mental abilities. Meaning, she tries to stand and walk places although she is a huge fall risk; she thinks that she lives by herself when in fact she can't be left alone for more than five or ten minutes at a stretch; etc. 

So, the few times we have tried to answer her questions about "what's wrong with me?" with a modicum of honesty, she simply says, "That's not true." You quickly learn that there's no benefit to fighting about it and you try find a way to divert attention. There are a few subjects that I have not found that diversion, but in general, when your loved one tells you that you are wrong and you are not wrong, you are truly at an impasse. That's a long way of saying maybe try the truthful answer once and see what the reaction is. Doing so may give you clues as to what to do next time. If your dad has memory issues, that does make it easier for you to learn from your mistakes because he'll forget that you screwed up last time

Iris L.
Posted: Friday, May 29, 2020 8:49 PM
Joined: 12/15/2011
Posts: 16448

OneofThreeDaughters wrote:

So, the few times we have tried to answer her questions about "what's wrong with me?" with a modicum of honesty, she simply says, "That's not true."  

What you are describing is called anosognosia and is a part of the dementia.

Iris L.

Posted: Tuesday, June 2, 2020 11:14 PM
Joined: 5/18/2020
Posts: 7

Thank you all for your input.  This really helps.  The anosognosia is indeed a complicated issue that we're learning to navigate.  I appreciate you all taking the time to share your experiences and insights.