My Dad’s a Goldfish – Please don’t argue

cropped-goldfish-87-1254566814ncva1.jpgA few weeks ago I re-blogged a post from Kay Bransford’s blog, Dealing with Dementia which listed 20 things we shouldn’t say to someone with dementia. One of the things on the list is not to correct or challenge trivial things; another was not to say ‘remember when’.

Out shopping recently in a department store I noticed a woman – middle-aged – pushing an elderly woman in a wheelchair.  She maneuvered the chair to a display of shoes. It was the raised voice which caught my attention more than anything but something alerted me to the fact the elderly woman had dementia. I’d missed the beginning of the conversation but am guessing the elderly woman had questioned the younger.

“You’re in Marks and Spencer’s, mother,” daughter shouts.

“I know where I am,” mother replies, “but what have I bought?”

“You haven’t bought anything. We just got here. Do you want to look at the shoes?”

I realise I’m going to be caught staring and shuffle off a bit, keeping the group – another woman pushing a man in a wheelchair seemed to be accompanying the mother and daughter – in my line of sight.

I’m still close enough to hear the mother tell her daughter she doesn’t want shoes and see her being pushed off in a different direction. I follow at what I hope is a discreet distance.

“I’d like a dressing gown.”

“You don’t need a dressing gown,” replies daughter. “You’ve got one.”

“They have nice ones in here.”

“I told you, you don’t need a dressing gown.” By this time she is pushing the wheelchair through the lingerie department, which carries a large stock of dressing gowns.

“Oh, lovely,” says mum, reaching out towards a long, fleecy one. “Such a pretty colour. And it feels so soft.”

“For goodness sake, mother, you do not need a dressing gown.” By now, the daughter’s voice is not only loud it has acquired that ‘see what I have to put up with?’ tone. She’s still pushing the chair through the lingerie department, her mother’s head swiveling from side to side trying to focus on the dressing gowns through which she is being pushed at what must seem a dizzying speed.

“Oh, wait, stop. I like that one. Let me see.”

Daughter speeds up. The woman pushing the other wheelchair suddenly shouts out to the mum. “You’ve already got a lovely dressing gown. Remember? You bought a new one last week.”

Mum does not remember. Mum is now becoming distressed; tears are not far away. Daughter gives a huge sigh. “Time to get out of here,” she exclaims, yanking the wheelchair round – so they go back the way they came. Yep, right through all the dressing gowns.

I want to talk to this woman. I want to tell her it would be so much better for everyone if she didn’t argue with her mother. Why not agree the dressing gown she likes is lovely? Why not allow her the pleasure of looking at them and deciding which one she likes best? Why can’t you agree with her? Why not find a way to distract her attention? Suggest you come back later to look for the one she likes best.

I want to shout at the woman who asked her if didn’t remember buying a dressing gown last week. Of course, she doesn’t remember. You know she has dementia.  Of course she doesn’t remember buying a dressing gown last week. Did she really buy one or were you just saying that? Were you lying to someone with dementia because you know they would have forgotten?

Of course, being British and trained from nappy-hood (diaper-hood) not to say or do anything which might cause a scene in public, I keep quiet. I’ve made mistakes, too.


26 thoughts on “My Dad’s a Goldfish – Please don’t argue

    • You’re right, Geoff. Time and place – and frame of mind – are important and by then I was so cross if I had said something it would have been a both feet in lecture which would have led to resentment all round. Mind, it would have taken her mum’s mind of the dressing gowns, I suppose.

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  1. As you say, we can see others’ mistakes when we’ve made the same ones ourselves. It hurts.

    But there is an up side to dementia. For the occasion of their 60th anniversary, I made my parents a book documenting their lives. Every couple of months, my mother would call with delighted thanks for her “new” book, which she loved just as much each time she was reintroduced to it.

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    • Yes, it is a bit like when kids are nagging at you and you have to find a way to deflect their attention. It is isn’t difficult to do – what is more difficult is remembering not to get caught up in an argument – and not to use logic. Logic doesn’t work.


  2. April, thanks for your comment on FB in reply to the person who thinks I shouldn’t write the blog any longer! I sent her a private message rather than having a public argument. If she actually read the blog post she’d see I don’t even mention dad in this one.


  3. What an uncomfortable situation that must have been Mary. I hate injustice and don’t feel comfortable being around it, especially if I don’t get to voice my opinion. You are so right. It wouldn’t have cost anything to appease the poor woman and let her have a few moments to dream shop. Everyone is so busy being in a hurry, forgetting compassion. #kindnessmatters. 🙂

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  4. It’s difficult to make mistakes, but one thing I learned from my experiences is to remember who is the one with the clear head and who is dealing from the fog. No arguments necessary. And it’s a hard call when to stand up in a situation like that. You made the decision that felt right for you in that moment. I tend to speak up and then usually regret that, too. We just need to accept both decisions.

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  5. This post is wonderful for looking at how to appreciate life as well ~ “not to correct or challenge trivial things” and I think as we age, we become a bit more cynical and set in our ways, and transforming this way makes it difficult not to speak when something is not quite matching our view…and it is often so illogical, but emotions get the best of us. Trying to step away and ponder the situation can bring clarity, and trivial matters do not matter – just need to remember this when the time comes. You handled it as I imagine I would have, some regret at not speaking up but also understanding.

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    • Thanks for commenting. It’s the remembering that trivial matters do not matter, which is often difficult. It’s easy to be swept up into an argument before you remember to not ‘sweat the small stuff’ and find a way to deflect attention.
      I would certainly have allowed the woman to enjoy some time looking at dressing gowns before suggesting a cup of tea or a quick look at something else.


  6. There are situations like that where we find ourselves torn between wanting to give advice and wanting not to get involved in an angry (and in the end not very productive) confrontation. How sad for the mother, though. With a little practice, the daughter could learn to respond in a way that would be much more helpful and pleasant for both of them. What you said in earlier comments about not sweating the small stuff seems a very sensible approach to me.

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  7. I’ve been that daughter. I hope that’s not true, but at times I’m afraid I was. My mom was not the easiest person to deal with BEFORE she got dementia. Also, my brother and I now realize that she had dementia a lot sooner than before she was diagnosed – she just hid it well. So in the beginning stages, she was just more difficult than usual, and she disagreed with us all the time (which was an old normal, not a new normal). We’d get irritated. Now that our mom’s dementia has progressed to a horrible level, we are much more understanding and just agree with everything she says. That way, she stays calm, and we stay calm. This is the saddest part of being a child I’ve ever experienced. Thanks for your wonderful post.

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    • Thanks for your comments, Pam. I think most of us have found ourselves doing or saying the wrong thing. I was very, very lucky dad retained his gentle nature which meant arguments were fewer. I do remember once arguing about whether the animal we could see in a field was a horse or a cow – utterly ridiculous thing to argue about. In the end he said, “If you say so, dear.” Then, as I drove on I heard him mutter under his breath, “It is a cow.”
      I know what you mean about it being the saddest part of being a child. And nothing prepares you for it.

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      • I chuckle uncomfortably reading this, Mary. I would have reacted much as you did, quietly incensed that the woman was behaving with such insensitivity toward you mother. If she’s going to take her to a store, she should know what to expect and go with the flow. But I may well have been the daughter too. There are times when the small frustrations build up and overflow into regrettable meanness. Fortunately other people usually don’t catch me saying things I shouldn’t, but has been a dinner or two with friends when my petulance showed….

        Liked by 1 person

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