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Ask Three Questions

Please take a look at the following reading, “Stop Correcting Them,” for more details about why constant correction doesn’t help anyone create moments of joy. A downloadable and book-formatted version of the text is also available at the bottom of the page if you prefer reading it in that format.

Stop Correcting Them

First, let’s give you Alzheimer’s so you know how it feels. Poof! You have Alzheimer’s, and you’re in a room that you don’t recognize (but you actually live there). You see your purse and pick it up. Someone comes along, takes it, and says, “That’s not your purse, Alice.”

Then you walk into a room, and lying on the chair is your sweater. You put it on and it feels so good to be warm. As you are walking out of the room, someone comes up to you and says, “Alice, that is Edith’s sweater.” They take your sweater.

You’re a bit tired and you see this nice comfy chair in another room. You sit down, and suddenly someone yells, “Get out of my room! Get out of my room!” And you get caned on the way out.

Now you just want to go home, so you walk toward the door. Someone says, “Alice, don’t go down there.” You push on the door and an alarm sounds. You walk to another door. It’s locked. You ask the next person you see, “Will you take me home? I live at 1200 Phillips Street.” They tell you, “You live here now.” You start to panic: “I gotta get out of here!”

This is how they feel. They don’t know they’re doing anything wrong until we show up and correct them. They aren’t even confused until we show up!

STOP CORRECTING THEM! Would they be taking someone’s stuff if they knew it wasn’t theirs? No. Would they be wearing someone else’s sweater if they knew it wasn’t theirs? No. Would they be in someone else’s room if they knew it wasn’t theirs? No. No matter how many times we correct them, can they change? No. Again, guess who has to be the one to change? Yes, it’s still you.

A lady approached me after a presentation and said, “Because of you, I am going to let my mom wear her nightgown every day and with no underwear underneath it.” I said, “I hope so.” Continuing on, she said, “Because what you are saying is that I am tired of fighting with her.” I said, “I hope so.”

Before you correct someone, pause and ask yourself three ques­tions. Let’s just use one of the toughest examples: wearing the same outfit every single day.

First question: Does it hurt you physically (not annoy you—we are easily annoyed) that they wear the same outfit every day? If you are answering honestly, the answer is “No.”

Second question: Does it physically hurt any of the other people living here? “No.” (When you get older you lose your sense of smell.)

Third question: Does it hurt the person with dementia physically to wear the same outfit every single day? “No.”

If you answered “No” to these three questions, let it go. It’s difficult enough to get dressed once a day, let alone twice.

Even if the outfit is dirty or has an odor, does it physically hurt anyone? No. If the outfit is soiled, then yes, now is the time to give them a reason to change clothes: “Company is coming.” “It’s Saturday night.” “Let’s get cleaned up for church.” Simply give them a reason they would understand to get “washed up.”

Since they have short-term memory loss, do they remember wearing that outfit yesterday? No. Why do they choose that outfit? They like it. It makes them feel good. Allowing this choice means respecting their dignity. Don’t you get to choose what outfit you wear?

Go ahead and try to throw away their favorite outfit. Do they forget about it? Absolutely not! They’re mad now because they can’t find it. Who suffers the repercussions? You do.

You might buy the person a whole new wardrobe in the hopes that they will wear something else: “Look at all the new clothes I bought you!” Now the person is mad because you spent their money. My sug­gestion: Sneak nine similar outfits into the closet and put one in a brown paper bag, saying, “I got it for ten cents at a garage sale.” If the person grew up with money, put the outfit in a bag from their favorite clothing store and say, “I found it on sale and just couldn’t pass it up!” In their generation, if it was inexpensive, they would wear it. If it was expensive, they would save it for a special occasion.

A lady only wanted to wear her blue sweatshirt with a kitty on it. The son did not like her wearing the same shirt every day, so I went to Goodwill and bought six blue sweatshirts with kittens on them. The son was happy and the lady thought she was wearing her kitten shirt every day.—Wenda K. Godfrey

He has all these beautiful jackets but will only wear one. If it doesn’t say medium, he won’t put it on. We have bought him new slippers, exactly like his old ones, but he won’t wear them because he has to save those. —Marvea

Even if you buy ten, they most likely will continue to wear the “old one.” Just know that tomorrow you will have created a moment of joy for five other people because they are wearing your mom’s sweater or your dad’s slippers. When they wear someone else’s clothing, they think it’s theirs. Never fight with them. It’s a losing battle.

It is easy for me not to fight with them, but you want to correct the person in the hopes that they will get better. This is a rightful wish, but it’s an illusion. This is a disease that progresses. Consider you want them to “look good” so you feel better. But, no matter how many times you correct them, do they get better? Do they change? No.

I hope that when you get irritated by what they are doing, you just think to yourself, “There he goes again.” And if you correct them, you just laugh at yourself and think, “There I go again.”

You cannot control the disease. You can only control your reaction to it. —Liz Ayres

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This article is from the free online course:

Creating Moments of Joy for People with Alzheimer’s

Purdue University

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