Correcting a Person with Alzheimer's Disease

Q. My grandmother has Alzheimer’s Disease, and will often say things that are just not true. Why do the care attendants not correct her when she is wrong? Wouldn’t this help her get better?

A. At a ‘common sense’ level, the suggested approach behind this question seems logical.

However, it is not so simple. Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is a progressive, organic brain disorder. Over time (2 – 20 years), serious changes take place in brain structure and function. Neurons (brain cells) die and synapses (connectors between cells) are also destroyed. Functionally, these processes result in loss of memory, ability to understand, do abstract thinking, make decisions and general confusion.

Confusion in AD is confusion as to TIME, PERSON and PLACE. AD patients and their families find themselves in a ‘new reality’. Nothing is as it was before. There’s no going back. The changes are progressive and irreversible.

And so, caregivers are rightly trained to “go to the PATIENT’ REALITY”, and acknowledge THEIR world, as THEY are experiencing it. There is NO “right and wrong” in that world, and so, there is no point in ’correcting’ what AD patients may say, no matter how bizarre it may seem. In fact, attempting to do so can add to their confusion, make them more stressed and irritable and produce agitation.

Of course, all and any care for AD patients must always be tempered by the paramount considerations of their safety and security and must do everything possible to maintain their dignity, respecting all human and personal rights.

Article written by Dr. John Crawford. Following his retirement as a professor of gerontology at Simon Fraser University, Dr. John Crawford continues to share his expertise and wisdom by serving as the VP of Education for Age-Friendly Business.

Information re-printed with permission from the CPCA 'Maturity Matters' Jan.2011 Issue.

P.S.: If you have questions, send them to me via my 'Contact Form' (write on the subject line "Ask the Experts Question"), and I will forward it on for answers and print them on this page.

Diane Hoffmann

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