What to Consider Before Correcting Rude Behavior in a Loved One With Dementia

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by Ray Burow |

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Alzheimer’s disease affects every aspect of a person’s being, altering personality and behaviors. A loved one diagnosed with dementia may behave irrationally or rudely toward family members, caregivers, or strangers.

But does dementia excuse that rudeness? It’s debatable and controversial.

I hesitate to approach the subject, because just as people with cancer, heart disease, and other ailments differ, so do those with dementia. Relationships between caregivers and their loved ones can also vary greatly.

I had a good relationship with my mother before her diagnosis, and it remained so after. However, suppose our relationship had been rocky before dementia. That dynamic likely would have carried over into her illness, even if my mother’s condition had significantly altered her personality. In that case, I wouldn’t have corrected her for offenses she couldn’t control.

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It was a blessing that my mother remained a gentle soul even in the late stages of dementia. Still, I found it necessary to correct her gently a few times, and I did so because I knew my mother would die a thousand deaths before choosing to be rude.

Consider the following before gently correcting your loved one:

  • The present stage of dementia and your loved one’s ability to process information.
  • Is the behavior connected to dementia, or was it present before diagnosis and indicative of the person’s core personality?
  • Is the offense worth correcting?
  • Should you grow thicker skin?
  • Will gentle correction help or exacerbate the situation?
  • Physical hitting is never an option.

How to gently correct rudeness

You — and only you — know your relationship with your loved one. With that in mind, and considering the stage of dementia, decide if gentle correction is an acceptable response to rudeness. Remember that Alzheimer’s disease alters personality, and avoid correcting behavior that may be unacceptable socially but is normal and unavoidable for Alzheimer’s patients. Bathroom accidents, for instance, fall within this category.

People with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia can’t comprehend time and space. Minutes pass, and it seems like a very long time. They might become impatient in a restaurant or their doctor’s waiting room. During these times, I gently corrected my mother, who before dementia was very patient. Our conversation went something like this:

Mom: “What is taking so long? We’ve been waiting here forever.”

Me: “Mom, we arrived just a few minutes ago, and the doctor/server has many patients/customers to treat/serve. We have to be patient and wait our turn.”

There were also incidents when my mother spoke harshly to a stranger, and I gently told her that she needed to remember to be kind. She always accepted that information and reverted to her core personality, which was kind, and apologized.

Finally, as a caregiver, it’s OK to remind your loved one that you are acting in their best interest, and it is unacceptable for them to speak rudely to you when they become upset.

Correcting a person with dementia is a touchy subject. Always choose to lead with kindness and love.

Note: Alzheimer’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Alzheimer’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Alzheimer’s disease.


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