Mild cognitive impairment is hard to live with. And you know what once of the hardest things is? When the person with MCI asks the same question over and over, until finally, the spouse erupts with, “Why do you keep asking? I already told you that.”
With MCI, it happens a lot and it leads to frustration, and resentment and hurt feelings. There are better ways to navigate that exchange, and that’s what my special guest is here today to talk about.
Hi, I’m Tony Dearing, of GoCogno.com, the website for people with mild cognitive impairment.
I belong to a private Facebook group for people with MCI, and I recently did a Facebook Live with Cheryl Freed, a family coach at Kemper Cognitive Wellness. She has great advice to offer families trying dealing to with cognitive impairment, and and I want to share bits of it, beginning with her advice on how to handle that endless loop when the same question gets asked over and over again. Here’s Cheryl:
I always look at everything as 50-50.
Cheryl Freed: I always look at everything as 50-50. So first I’ll talk about how the person that has mild cognitive impairment can do something differently, and then I’ll talk about what a person, a family member, spouse, sibling or even a friend, can do to be helpful and not make that situation worse.
So let’s talk about the person that’s struggling with finding those words and asking those questions over and over again. No one is more frustrated that the person who can’t remember that five minutes ago, they asked that question. So the last thing that we want to do is to say to that person, “You just asked me that question. Why can’t you remember that?”
So there’s that balance, there’s that struggle. Probably one of the top things family members report is how frustrating it is that somebody can’t remember that we just had this conversation five minutes ago or two hours ago or last night. And again, you being frustrated is not helpful at all for that person.
No person would want to keep repeatedly asking those questions if they could remember the answers.
There is no person that would want to keep repeatedly asking those questions if they could remember the answers. And for the person that’s trying to answer the questions, the worst thing you can do is say, “You just asked me this. Why can’t you remember this?” So I want to move forward and talk about what each person can do differently so that situation doesn’t become so frustrating for either side.
There are conversations where you might forget details, but there also are conversations where you really want to know what the answer is.
So let me just use an example of, “What time are we going tomorrow to the doctor?” And so you ask that question and then you’re like, “What time are we going to the doctor?” And then the person who you’re asking says, “I just told you, we’re going tomorrow at 10 o’clock.”
Now here’s the strategy. Go write it down. Have a calendar. The more you say it, and write it, you will remember it.
And then it also gives you a focal point to start going to the calendar. Instead of the person repeating the question, if you write the answers on the calendar, it’s a much more polite way to say, “You know what? I wrote it on the calendar. Let’s go look at the calendar.” Or “why don’t you look at the calendar?”
Doesn’t all that sound so much nicer than using words, “Why don’t you remember? I just told you that?”
What you don’t want to do, family member, is respond in anger.
So there’s just one example, but please hear what I said. Write it down. Use a calendar. What you don’t want to do, family member, is respond in anger and so you may have to repeat yourself and maybe you’re the person who says, “Oh, yeah, that’s the second time we talked about that. I forgot to write it on the calendar.” Or “why don’t I get a Post-it note and put it on the counter for you?”
Tony Dearing: Are there other tools besides calendars? A lot of times it’s things like that, “Who’s coming over for dinner tonight?”
Cheryl: Right, or the kids are coming and you completely forgot and then you’re shocked when they get in the door and you have nothing ready for that, and then in front of those family members or friends, the spouse, because they’re kind of embarrassed about the whole thing says, “I told you last night they were coming over for dinner.” And it just turns into a very awkward situation.
I think the nicest thing family members can do is take the blame for it.
I think that the nicest thing family members can do is take the blame for it. You know that your spouse, or your mom or your dad, is having difficulty with remembering things. And the last thing we want to do is embarrass them about it. So being the bigger person and saying, “Oh my gosh, this is all my fault, I must have forgot about that. I am so sorry. You know, why don’t we order pizza?” Isn’t that such a nicer way than trying to put more on the person that already has the difficulty of remembering?
So I truly believe the biggest role for the family is to be supportive and to be there for them and say, “I’m sorry,” and take the blame for it. And I know it is the hardest thing to do. I get that.
Tony: Now let’s flip it the other way, because sometimes what happens to the person with MCI is the family members says, “You would remember that if it was important to you. You’re just not remembering it because you don’t care.”
Cheryl: And you know, I think on the same side you can say, “I’m so sorry. I hear that hurts you and I will try harder to remember that but I’m not trying deliberately to forget the things that are important to you.” And again, I’m going to say this a lot, I hope what you’re hearing is this understanding on both sides. I understand when I don’t remember this it is hard for you. And it’s hard for me, so let’s figure out ways that we can communicate better.
Are you trying to do it in front of the TV? Are you trying to do it where it’s noisy?
I also think that, let’s talk about the environment, too. If there is something that you really need to talk about and you want that person to have a better chance of remembering it or participating fully in that conversation, look around. Are you trying to do it in front of the TV? Are you trying to do it where it’s noisy? Are you trying to do it with a group of people?
Are you trying to do it when somebody’s tired? My goodness, gang, I don’t know about you, but do not have a conversation with me late at night when I’m tired and then expect me to remember all the details.
So it’s up to the person that does not have MCI to really take a look around. I’m not going to say that. It’s up to everybody. Because there are times even with me, and I do have some communication complications right now with where I’m at in my journeys and I had to teach my husband a lot of things that I need him to do for me. But one thing that I can do, I can ask him questions and I can pick a time that’s better for me and I can say, “I can’t talk about this right now. Can we wait until tomorrow? Let’s write a note down and let’s talk about it tomorrow.”
So I know that was a lot of information, but basically, the environment. Don’t have it in a noisy area. Sit down and talk to each other face to face. Get off the phones. Spend that time together.
I hope that helps a little bit. If we just start out with success, we’re going to have more success with the environment.
Tony: Thanks to Cheryl for sharing those insights, and thank you for joining me today. I’ll see you again next week. Until then, be kind to your mind.