How can I get my mom stop obsessing about something?

Emgs asked...

My 73 year-old mother has several health issues - vascular disease, diabetes, previously had mild stroke and had heart bypass surgery. She currently suffers with dementia and for the last three months has been obsessed with one subject. She thinks I have a cancerous spot on my lung caused when she smoked when she was pregnant with me. I continually remind her that I am fine but she gets herself so worked up and worried over this. It is something she tells me more than several times a day. Is there something else I should be telling her? I cannot get her to stop obsessing over this.

Expert Answer

Joanne Koenig Coste is a nationally recognized expert on Alzheimer's care and an outspoken advocate for patient and family care. She is the author of Learning to Speak Alzheimer's. Also, she currently is in private practice as an Alzheimer's family therapist. Ms. Koenig Coste also serves as President of Alzheimer Consulting Associates, implementing state-of-the-art Alzheimer care throughout the United States.

Helping someone with dementia to stop obsessing takes a little time and a great deal of creativity. Each time your Mom starts a conversation about the obsessive subject, it is the first time for her. Your body language will be the key to making her feel respected and it will help to keep her unaware of the repetitiveness which is, by the way, a hallmark of this dementia.
With that said, I will share a technique that may seem counter-intuitive at first try. Practice really does make perfect! I want you to try a therapeutic lie or 'fiblet' as I refer to it. Get into Mom's world by being in touch with her feelings when she is obsessing. I'm sure when you tell her that there is no 'cancerous spot' she thinks you are not telling the truth. This sets up a less than ideal interaction. Next time, try agreeing with her - remember it is really her emotion you are connecting to and not the words. You might say something like, "the medication has worked wonders Mom - the spot is completely healed". You may need to go as far as taking a pill (M&M's work great!) in her presence and show her that the 'pills' are almost all gone. Assure her that the Docs tell you the 'spot' is NOT from her smoke but from an allergy you had last year. Your non-verbal communication style will govern how smoothly you relate. Try an expression of joy - rejoicing in the shrinking of the 'spot'...practice in front of the mirror being aware that dementia folk are adept at reading what we are NOT saying. Be inventive - be creative - but most of all, be her ally in the obsession. You will both feel better for it.