IMG_1026My friend Helen’s mother has Alzheimer’s. One morning Margaret called Helen in a panic and said, “All of my money is gone! My bank account is has been emptied out and I’m completely broke.”

Helen calmly explained to her mother that she was confused. She said, “I’m managing your money, Mother. I pay all your bills, and you still have have lots of money in the bank.” The more she tried to explain the more upset Margaret became. The next morning Margaret called again crying that all of her money had been stolen. This went on for days before Helen called me.

I suggested Helen respond to her mother as if the situation was real. So the next morning when Margaret called, Helen said, “Oh, my God, Mom! That’s horrible. I’m going to hang up right now and call the bank. I’m going to find out what happened, and I will make sure that they put every single penny back in your account!” And then she hung up.

They had the same conversation for four or five days in a row, and then whatever had triggered that particular fear in Margaret’s brain, released it’s hold on her and she forgot all about it.

The trick is to realize that whatever fear or concern a person with Alzheimer’s is expressing, is real to them in that moment. So instead of trying to pooh-pooh something away and act as if it isn’t important, react as you would if their brains were healthy. Empathizing with them won’t cure the disease, but it could make life a little less scary for them and a whole lot easier for you.