The Ten Absolutes

Absolute One: Never Argue, Instead Agree

My Mother was truly one of the sweetest, kindest individuals I have ever met. She thought everyone and everything was truly wonderful. In addition, I was her favorite child (my sister agrees, so I'm not just tooting my own horn!), and in her eyes, I could do no wrong. Fast forward to three days after Hurricane Katrina, my mother and I were being evacuated along with my assisted living staff, and 25 assisted living residents with Alzheimer's disease. And I was responsible for all of them. Though well planned, evacuation conditions are never pleasant - especially after a few days. My dear, sweet mother was totally annoyed with me, her one-time darling, and started repeatedly asking, “What on earth could you have done to get us kicked out of our nice little home? I just want to go home!” Clearly, I had a lot on my mind, too much to do, and not enough patience. I just couldn't believe my Mother, of all people, was accusing me of creating this situation!

We were walking down a corridor and had just reached the other Alzheimer's patients, when she very loudly repeated her accusation. In pure exasperation, I obviously forgot everything I knew after 30 years caring for Alzheimer's patients, and responded, “Mom, I did not get us kicked out of our home! We had to leave because of the storm.” She looked at me with pure disgust and said, “Well if there was a storm, it is gone now! I want to go home!” Poorer timing could not have been possible! Because of my inappropriate response, the twenty-five others in my care joined the chorus: “I want to go home! So do I! I already told you I wanted to go, let's just go!” You can imagine the look of disdain on the faces of my extremely tired, stressed-out staff as they now needed to figure out how to calm this melee!

Absolute #1 tells us: Never Argue, Instead Agree. Initially, you might think to yourself, “but I don't usually argue!” However if one has much experience with a person with AD there is a smile or a nod as we see that the arguing has already begun - perhaps long before anyone realized there might be a disease process involved. The most common response is, “Well I don't really argue with Mom, but she says things that are wrong or even ridiculous, and someone has to correct her.” No one enjoys being corrected, no matter what their psychological status! It makes us feel ashamed and embarrassed.

One of the most classic and distressing examples of argument seems to be when our loved ones want to “go home.” The most common (and least effective) response seems to be to tell a loved one that they are at home, or they can't go home. Most anyone who has used this response knows it is definitely the wrong answer. So how do you respond? Use a simple and to-the-point answer with as much honesty and sincerity as is possible. What my answer should have been to my mother was the 3 word, 5 letter sentence that should be the mantra for everyone. When she asked to go home, I only needed to state the absolute truth, “So do I.”  It would have made her feel better, put me in agreement with her, and prevented the near-mutiny that I had created.