Have your aging parents ever told you they wanted to “go home” when they already were in their home or didn’t recognize their new home in a senior facility? This is one of those OMG! moments I write about in my book, “OH MY GOD! WE’RE PARENTING OUR PARENTS: How to Transform this Remarkable Challenge into a Journey of Love.” The disorientation of our aging parents can be confusing and even disorienting for all involved. How can you best handle your parents when they’re disoriented and/or lost in time or space?
1. Ask about where “home” is. Stay calm. Remind them of what IS stable and secure — your love.
Our aging loved ones often have vivid memories, as if they are living then, of times that occurred long ago. During her final days with dementia, My Mom used to ask why her Mother didn’t come see her anymore. “Doesn’t she love me?” She’d ask me. I felt so sad and also bad for her disorientation, but I also felt good when I could remain calm and then tell her: “I’m here with you now and all is well. Of course, your Mom is not angry with you. She always loves you, as do I.”
2. Allow your parents to be right when they tell you the past is the present or are otherwise confused. It’s not important that you’re right or that they are wrong. Just enjoy them: that’s important!
The latest in effective approaches to patients with dementia who become disoriented is to “allow them to be right.” If you visited your Mom at her facility yesterday but she complains: “You haven’t been here in two weeks,” DON’T ARGUE! The important thing for everyone’s health is to remain calm. Disorientation is exacerbated with stress. Arguing with you is stressful. So your NOT insisting on “the truth” will likely support her calmness. Try this on for alternatives: “I’ve been so busy, I just couldn’t make it over as much as I wanted recently. That’s why I’m so happy to see you today, Mom!”
3. Lovingly offer to take your folks “home,” if it will calm them. Then gently bring them back to this time and space.
For some seniors, it may even help to offer to take them home. But first, you have to get the whole dressing process and arranging for getting in the car and then getting them into the car with their seat belts on. Often, this will be enough to tire someone already disoriented and your not “arguing” but agreeing to take them home may complete the “turn around” so you can head back home. One person reported telling his father one night: “You’ll need to help me find the way home because it’s been a long time and I’ve forgotten.” When the Dad admitted he too forgot the way, they both laughed, drove around a bit more and then returned to today’s home. The Dad felt “heard” and was easily able to be comforted into his bed at home for a great night’s sleep thereafter.
Try these 3 strategies and remember: IT’S YOUR JOB AS THE POParent TO BE PATIENT, CALM AND LOVING. Doing so will help you and your loved one get through these confusing moments. Tell us how they worked for you!