How Do I Convince My Mother With Dementia That Her Dreams Aren't Real?

Margeryv asked...

My mom is living in an assisted living facility with 24/7 care. She is a Parkinson's patient and is developing dementia. She has vivid dreams and cannot determine upon waking, that her experience was a dream. For the mostpart, they are harmless. This past week however, she had a dream that she became engaged to a male friend. The friend, I'll call him George, has a live-in girl friend, and has been friends with my parents for many years. (my dad passed away March 2010). She has begun to call George at his home, wants to talk to him and visit him, and insists she has slept there several times this week. I am concerned that one of the few old friends who still visits my mom, will become alienated, and feel harrased by the phone calls, to say nothing of how embarrased my mother will feel if she ever realizes this was a dream. Telling her so has gotten us no where, except has made her angry at us for not believing her. We are really struggling with this one!!

Expert Answer

Deborah Cooke is a gerontologist specializing in dementia, delirium, caregiving, and senior fitness. She is a certified dementia care provider and specialist through the Alzheimer's Foundation of America. Cooke currently manages several multidisciplinary programs to enhance well-being for hospitalized seniors and other vulnerable patients at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. She also serves on the board of NewYork-Presbyterian's Patient and Family Education Advisory Committee. She has 18 years of experience working with the aging and caregiver communities.

It sounds like your mother is convinced her dream is real. Unfortunately, telling her otherwise will not help. As you can see, it's only making her angrier. When a person develops dementia, her reality and feelings are hers, despite how crazy and frustrating it is for others. It's impossible to rationalize.

I think the best thing to do in this situation is talk with George. If he has had a friendship with your parents for a while, he can see the before and after; hopefully understanding the changes in your mother's cognitive processing and reality. I agree with your concerns about alienating him and feeling harrassed by her. This may very well be true. However, if he is a true friend, I would hope that he will be tolerant. To help with this, I encourage you two to sit down. George will appreciate that you are sensitive toward his feelings and supportive of him.

You also can work together to come up with a game plan. You need to be partners in the management of this altered reality. Strategy, although not always successful, will help you both deal with this new-found behavior. And it will require trial and error.

Hang in there and take deep breaths.