You can’t win a debate with dementia

You can’t win a debate with dementia.

Brains sometimes see things that don’t exist. Or that haven’t existed for thirty years. Or that didn’t actually exist in that way thirty years ago. Brains sometimes forget things that happened six times in the last hour. Or explanations that have been offered every hour for five days.

If you know, you know.

In some cases, this confusion is the result of a traumatic brain injury, which may heal.

In other cases, however, the ones I’m talking about, there won’t be any healing. Things will progress toward confusion, with fewer and fewer moments of clarity.

In these moments, we can choose to debate, to argue for the facts.

Or we can choose to imagine that the person actually did forget all those things, and that through no fault of their own.

Their brain is already frustrating our loved one. Looking for ways to accommodate their frustration rather than proving the facts may be a better choice.

The arguments aren’t worth winning. Because we’ll lose again in 10 minutes.

And because we want to win so we don’t have to accept the decline.

In these times of confusion, we could

  • Smile and nod.
  • Offer a short version, not the long, complicated explanation they cannot understand version.
  • Respond to what they are saying, not what is factual. If they are talking to people we cannot see, we can talk about those people rather than scolding them.
  • We can introduce ourselves again, without judgement, even if our mom “should” recognize her 60-year-old son.
  • We can be sad without being argumentative.

We can help this moment, detached from all moments in the past and future, be as pleasant as possible.

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