How should I respond when she doesn’t make sense?

pink dogwood flowersI often hear this question from family members. It makes us uncomfortable to find ourselves in a conversation with someone who is not making sense.

There are two reasons for why your loved one may make a statement that is nonsensical.

An altered sense of reality.

When people with dementia say something that doesn’t make sense or cannot be true, it may be sensible according to their personal sense of reality even though we know it is nonsense in our reality. The problem in this case is that they are losing rational thought and memory, which is skewing their ability to properly understand what is going on around them.

Without the ability to recall facts or events that have already happened, people experiencing dementia misinterpret what is happening in the present. Without the ability to use analysis, see cause and effect, or use comparison (rational thought skills), they arrive at even more erroneous conclusions.

If our response is to correct them, we are asking that they accept our version of reality – something different than their brains are telling them is true. But because they have dementia, they lack the very tools needed to consider and accept our version of the truth. That’s why their reactions are usually resistance and denial.

When people experiencing dementia are in error about reality or truth, it’s wiser to accept their version of the truth and try to work with it to make them more comfortable. It’s a kindness to refrain from asking them to use cognitive tools they no longer possess.

Loss of language skills.

Someone with dementia may also make nonsensical statements because dementia is affecting the part of the brain that enables them to use language to express themselves. If you’re in the grocery store shopping with a loved one who says, “You’re spending all my money,” she might actually be trying to say, “My, everything seems so expensive – we’re spending an awful lot of money right now.” The first statement is an overly simplified version of the second.

On the other hand, she may actually believe you have been spending her money against her wishes – a misinterpretation of reality. When you’re dealing with a false sense of reality, the best response is to not demand acceptance of your reality (i.e. “No, I am not – I’m doing everything I can to preserve your resources and spending my own on you!”). That would be trying to discuss facts with someone unable to do so. Better would be, “Oh, Mom, I worry, too. Everything seems so expensive.”

The better response is always to respond to the emotion behind the words. Someone who says, “They stole all my jewelry!” is expressing loss and indignation, whether factual or not. If you avoid the factual issues and respond to her emotions, you’ll avoid a fight. A nonfactual response would be, “Oh Mom, I’m so sorry… I felt so badly for you when that happened,” and then to move the conversation on to a happier topic.

When our clients’ ability to express themselves falters, we ignore their incorrect words or sentences and focus on their intonation and facial expressions. Their nonverbal communication displays the emotion they want to convey, which helps us discern intent and meaning.

When I respond to my clients in these two ways – accepting their version of reality and listening for the emotion and meaning hidden by their impaired vocabulary – they begin to feel safe talking with me, and feeling safer means less questioning or striving to be understood.

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Judy Interviewed on “A Clear Life” Podcast – Upcoming Free Workshop

Judy Cornish was recently interviewed by Brianne Grebil on the “A Clear Life” podcast. She and Brianne enjoyed their time so much that they have decided to collaborate on a free workshop discussing the DAWN method of dementia care.

Dementia Care Workshop

The workshop is scheduled for March 11, 2018 at 12:00pm PT/3:00pm ET. It will last approximately 90 minutes and is free to the public.

What will be covered in the workshop:

  • A beautiful and refreshing perspective on dementia that brings with it renewed hope, peace and calm.
  • A deeper understanding of what is lost with dementia, but more importantly what remains, so that you can adjust your care giving to focus on your loved ones strengths, making life easier and more enjoyable for you both.
  • How to have deep and beautiful experiences with your loved one, regardless of their level of cognitive ability.

To learn more and register for the workshop, please go to The DAWN Program website.


Watch Our New Animated Movie “The Good News About Dementia Care”


(from Judy Cornish at the DAWN Method)
This spring I had the pleasure of collaborating with Michael and Nacole Potteiger, and gerontologist Debby Dodds, of WeAreGenerationConnect.com. Michael and Nacole are based in York, Pennsylvania. Debby is based in Spokane, Washington. Debby and I put on our first collaborative workshop in Spokane at Spark Central last month, with me teaching DAWN principles and Debby demonstrating how to use apps on iPads that help families and their loved ones with dementia stay in touch.

Michael and his team develop apps and videos for helping families and caregivers stay connected and enjoy quality time with their loved ones who have dementia, even though living at a distance. They have now created an animated video for DAWN – to demonstrate the first principle of the DAWN Method: that although people lose their rational thought abilities to dementia, they do not lose their intuitive thought skills.

The team at WeAreGenerationConnect is dedicated to the same truths that we are here at DAWN, that when we recognize and support the abilities that are not lost in dementia, our loved ones will be able to continue to live happy and fulfilled lives, and we as caregivers will experience less stress.

Take a minute to enjoy our new animated video. There really is good news about dementia.