The Ten Absolutes

Absolute Two: Never Reason, Instead Divert!

Mary: Tom, I have asked Jim to come over for coffee this morning. Now you know he has been our neighbor for over thirty years, and you must not talk about how bald and fat he is. And you certainly cannot accuse him of stealing the lawn mower again! We really need his assistance and his friendship.

[Enter Jim]

Tom: Hi there stranger! You are really getting bald and fat, and you look like you must be getting pretty old too!

Mary: Tom! We just had this discussion! Why on earth are you saying things like that to Jim? We are all changing with age. Jim, I’m so sorry. I just don’t understand what would make him say such things.

Tom: What are you talking about? I didn’t say anything.

Mary: I’m so sorry, Jim! You know he hasn’t been well lately.

Tom: Mary, why are you telling Jim these things? You’re making them up, I had a perfectly normal check-up at the doctor yesterday. He said I am just fine, and can go back to work tomorrow.

Mary: Tom, you’ve been retired for ten years. Why would you think you are going back to work?

Absolute number two says: Never Reason, Instead Divert. Poor Mary is just beside herself, and she so needs the assistance of their next door neighbor Jim. She is embarrassed by Tom’s actions and absurd statements when Jim is around. She knows she should just level with Jim and tell him that the doctor concluded that Tom has dementia, but what if they are wrong? After all, Tom had such a good day yesterday. What if Jim won’t have anything to do with them? Some people don’t want anything to do with a person with Alzheimer’s disease. If she could just get Tom to stop being mean, then everything could get back to normal. Right?

Ultimately, Mary is going to realize that the best method for handling this sticky situation is to be honest with Jim. If he has been such a good friend, he will be more likely to understand and help Mary if he has some idea of what to do, and how to respond. What will work best with Tom is for Mary to divert the subject to a more pleasant one as quickly as possible. It could take many tries, and may have to be repeated throughout the entire visit. Some examples of diverting would be, “Aren’t you just a comedian this morning! I made some cinnamon rolls. Jim, you will join us for coffee, won’t you?”  When Tom starts in about something that looks like it could get controversial, Mary can say, “Tom, have another cinnamon roll. Aren’t they delicious?” She can introduce new subjects, particularly the ones Tom likes to talk about, each time the conversation seems to be headed in the wrong direction. This takes some skill, but isn’t that hard once she gets some practice. It works especially well if she can get Tom on a subject from the past that he likes to discuss. One of the most effective communication tools that exists for a person with Alzheimer’s disease is to get them to focused on something that seems to come easily to them. It works almost all of the time.