Coping with Dementia: Alzheimer’s – What’s in a Name?

By Debbie Selsalvage Posted on September 10, 2023

Many times, I have heard a family member struggling with a parent living with dementia say, “My mother is in denial!  If I could only get her to admit she has Alzheimer’s, things could be different!”  

This insistence to name the problem is a fruitless search for common ground.  The care partner seems to be saying to their loved one, “If you see the situation as I do by admitting you have dementia, then you will start seeing everything as I see it, and you will start listening to me, and you will do what I ask. Then you will stop behaving in troublesome ways because you will realize you have a problem that is the cause of so much stress between us.”  

This is a lot of logic and deductive reasoning to expect from a person living with dementia.  Furthermore, their so-called “behaviors” do not come from their failure to recognize the disease.  Their behaviors come from the fact that they have a disease!  And that is not their fault!

Alzheimer’s – What’s in a Name?

When counseling families that are tearing themselves apart because dementia has entered their lives, much of my time is dedicated to trying to understand the family dynamics that were established long before dementia ever entered the picture. Coping with dementia is a family project.

Dysfunctional family dynamics that everyone lived with and ignored because they were routine and “normal,” suddenly rush to the fore when dementia enters the picture.  I’ve noticed that much of the conflict centers on the constant debate over who is “right” because whoever is right ultimately gets to make the rules.  This debate continues and families can continue to function successfully because everyone lives within basically the same reality.  But now, your person with dementia lives in a different reality.

Recently, I had a wonderful conversation with a man I met at a memory care community.  He was articulate and his vocabulary revealed a high level of education.  I learned that he served as Lyndon Johnson’s vice president and that many want him to run for president, but he refuses because he does not want to get in the way of a Barry Goldwater victory!  

It was a delightful conversation, and I could see that he relished our discussion and received joy from the fact that someone was listening to him.  What on Earth could have been served by correcting him and reminding him that he had dementia?

Coping with Dementia

coping with dementia
Learning how to compassionately care for a parent or partner with dementia or alzheimer’s is worth the trouble. longleanna / Pixabay

I will admit, acceptance of an alternative reality is a lot easier when the person is a total stranger; not a person you have lived with for many years.  Granted, acceptance of dementia and modification of your own behavior is not easy when it is within the family.  But it is the only thing that works. 

Please remember that they are not trying to give you a hard time; they are having a hard time, and demanding that they see things from your point of view only makes matters worse.  

They can no longer come to your reality, but you still have the ability to go to theirs through empathy, understanding, patience, love, and by avoiding pointless debate as much as possible.  Little can be gained by trying to make them see the world as you see it.  Just remember that – even when living in different worlds — you both deserve the best.

About Debbie Selsavage

Debbie Selsavage is a Certified Trainer and Consultant in the Positive Approach to Care and a Certified Dementia Practitioner.  She authors a monthly column to assist caregivers in coping with Dementia. Her company, Coping with Dementia LLC is dedicated to making life better for individuals living with dementia.  Contact Debbie at



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