My Elderly Parent with Dementia Is Being Stubborn

Sometimes you feel like you’re banging your head against a wall. It seems that whenever you suggest something to your parent with dementia, they stubbornly refuse to consider it.

It might be something as simple as coming out with you for a drive, or wearing a heavier coat when the weather gets cold, or considering Meals on Wheels, or trying out an adult day program. As far as you’re concerned, there’s really no reason for them to object. And yet they tell you no. Either that or they simply ignore you.

You think they’re being unreasonable. You’re trying your best to support them, but they’re making it awfully hard for you. In fact, rather than appreciating your efforts, they seem to resent them.

Sound familiar?

Take a step back

It can certainly be frustrating to constantly butt heads like this. It may even be tempting to throw up your hands in exasperation and say, “That’s it! I give up!”

But stop for a moment and ask yourself, is your parent just being stubborn or is there another possible explanation for their behavior?

How dementia can change people

When your parent pushes back, it’s easy to assume they’re choosing to be difficult. But that’s not always the case.

Remember that their dementia is making it hard for them to interpret the world around them (including you) and respond in a “reasonable” way.  

How so? 

  1. Their brain may be working more slowly than it did before. It may take them longer to process information and respond to your suggestion in a meaningful way. You may interpret their hesitation as reluctance. Instead of expecting them to respond in the moment, give them more time to think things through, particularly in the early stages of dementia. 
  2. They’re having trouble understanding what you mean. It may not just be that they require more time to think things through, your suggestion may not make sense to them. And rather than admit they’re confused, it’s easier (and less embarrassing) for them to simply say no. If this happens, try not to get annoyed by their response. Try again later, simplifying your explanation next time. If they’re hesitating, check how well they understand by asking them to repeat your suggestion back to you. Do it gently so they don’t feel stupid if they’re unable to do it.
  3. Poor memory may be getting in the way. Sometimes memory difficulties may be obvious (you find yourself having the same conversation again and again) or more subtle. The advantage here is that you can present the same suggestion again and again without your parent necessarily remembering why they rejected it on previous occasions. You can keep going until you get a yes, perhaps varying your approach each time until you get the response you’re hoping for.
  4. They’re scared of being humiliated. One of the scary things about having dementia is sensing you’re “not right” and not being able to do anything about it. Your suggestion may be particularly worrying for your parent if it involves meeting new people or “acting normally” in a social situation. If you can, try to get your parent to open up about these concerns. Recognize that the fear of humiliation is real and don’t try to downplay it. Even if they don’t want to talk about their feelings, do your best to make whatever you’re suggesting as “failure-free” for them as possible. 
  5. Their “reality” is different than yours. They may have little insight into their dementia, particularly in the later stages of the disease. And because of this, some of your suggestions may not make any sense to them. If this is the case, try to persuade them to accept your suggestion within their version of reality. For instance, you’d like them to go to an adult day program, but they can’t make sense of your suggestion because in their mind they’re a teenager still going to high school. Instead of arguing the point, tell them you’re giving them a lift to school. They’re more likely to accept your suggestion if it makes sense in their “reality”. 

Need more advice?

Sometimes it’s helpful to talk with someone who understands what you’re going through. Everyday, we help people whose parents have dementia. It doesn’t matter whether you’re considering memory care for them or not. We’re here for you if you’d like to talk. Find a Sinceri assisted living and memory care community near you here, and contact us to schedule a tour.

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