Angst v Logic

The anxiety, apprehension, and insecurity that make up angst in the mind of a dementia sufferer (DS) creates a dark, swirling canvas in his mind.  Imagine a Van Gogh painting without the bright stars or yellow sunflowers.  The DS fills his murky canvas with hostile opinions and conspiracy theories that often are directed toward those who are closest to him but may be focused on the evening television news anchor.

As a caregiver, you want to help.  You grab your logic brush and rush in to solve his problem, to sweep away his doubts.  You paint over his sad, angry image with the clear lacquer of common sense and reflection, explaining how his theory doesn’t hold up to reason.

Fighting the angst of a DS with logic is like tossing a lighted match on a turpentine-soaked rag.  It makes the situation worse.  You don’t start out to have a blazing verbal battle, but that is where you will end up if you keep pushing logic on him.   Besides affecting memory and language, dementia affects the ability to show empathy* in the DS.  He thinks you are telling him he is wrong…again.  He knows he is wrong quite frequently, and he doesn’t want to be wrong this time.  Emotions will heighten and voices will be raised.  He doesn’t care if he is being unfair; he won’t respond to rehashing the situation, mostly because by now he can’t recall the details of what he was thinking about in the first place.  This is now a lose-lose situation.  No one is happy, no one is consoled, no one wins.

* “Neurocognitive disorders are acquired conditions that represent underlying brain pathology that results in a decline in faculties; they are not developmental conditions. They are caused by brain damage in areas that affect learning and memory, planning and decision making, the ability to correctly use and understand language, hand-eye coordination, and the ability to act within social norms, such as dressing appropriately for the weather or occasion, showing empathy, and performing routine tasks.”  — Source: http://www.psychologytoday.com/us/conditions/neurocognitive-disorders-mild-and-major

2 comments

  1. I have heard before that using logic to argue a point or correct a comment will not be successful and will often lead to a full-blown argument. However, I don’t know what the correct response is supposed to be. If the DS is accusing you of something, surely, you must defend yourself. So what are you supposed to do?

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  2. There is no correct response. If the issue at hand could cause serious problems for your or the DS, you have to insist on logic and suffer the consequences. For instance, asking someone else to climb the ladder and change the light bulb. If the issue is not critical (and it is surprising how many really are not all that important), then just help hunt for the item that you have been accused of moving/stealing/hiding. As for defending yourself or anyone else accused of stealing or lying, simply give it up. Defensive logic won’t get you anywhere because it doesn’t matter how supportive you are, the caregiver is often the first target.

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