Caregivers aren’t perfect. As a nurse, I didn’t find giving my husband personal care difficult. But it broke my heart to see my brilliant spouse move further into dementia. His wonderful brain was physically changing. Cells were dying and synapses weren’t firing. As I tried to communicate with him, I made these four mistakes (among many) that Debra Kostiw, Certified Master Dementia Strategist, talks about in her video “Four Common Dementia Caregiving Mistakes.”

Mistake 1: Reasoning

Our first response to anyone who we believe has the wrong take on something is to reason with them. We point out what appears clearly to us as obvious facts. For example, if A equals B, and B equals C, C equals A. What’s so hard to understand? Quite a lot if the brain is not physically capable of processing that.

If we try to reason with someone with dementia, we only frustrate them and probably make them angry. Not to mention our own frustration and then guilt for feeling angry as well. How often did I repeat something louder, as if that would work?

Mistake 2: Correcting

We want to correct people when they say something in error. I recall my husband told me in the morning he needed to get to class at the University of Rochester. I reminded him he’d graduated in 1958 and he was retired. His response?

“I know. But I have to get to class.”

Well, that was a waste of breath. Correcting them knocks them down when they already feel bad, and crumbles their self-esteem. It doesn’t help, anyway.

It’s not about being correct. It’s about making their lives peaceful.

Mistake 3: Arguing

Close to the reasoning mistake is the arguing mistake. This often happens when someone is hallucinating. Don’t try to argue a point with a person whose brain is damaged. It’s not a fair fight.

A friend handled his father’s hallucinations perfectly at 3 a.m.. Dad was convinced there were enemies in his room that needed fending off. My friend found him swiping at the air, so he went into the kitchen and grabbed a straw. He returned to his father’s room, stood next to him, and used the straw as a mighty weapon while they fought side by side. After a few seconds, he said, “I’ve got this, Dad. I’ll fight them off for a spell while you take a break and sleep.”

“Good idea,” his father said as he toddled off to bed.

Mistake 4: Quizzing

Sometimes we think we need to gauge our loved one’s mental status. How “with it” is he today? We will quiz them, only to make them feel bad, embarrassed, or stupid if they don’t know the answer.

As Debra says in her video, you will find out soon enough. One day, before my husband’s dementia was obvious, I was about to leave for a dental appointment. I asked him if he wanted me to help him get comfortable before I left.

“No,” he said. “I’ll wait here by the door for my father.”

His father had been dead for years. I canceled my appointment.

Answers about Alzheimer’s

Debra’s videos are so fact-filled and supportive, I believe every caregiver for someone with dementia should watch them—such as this one in it’s 12:56 minutes entirety. They are full of quick, valuable advice for busy caregivers.