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Arguing With Your Loved One Won't Help Anyone

About five years into my mom’s Alzheimer’s journey, I was spending the night at my parents’ house and decided to help my mom get ready for bed, so my dad could have a break. I had never helped her get ready for bed before, so I wasn’t familiar with her nightly routine. At the time, my mom’s Alzheimer’s was moderate, but she knew enough to know that it felt weird for her daughter to be helping her get ready for bed.

Getting my mom ready for bed

Despite some resistance from my mom, I helped her change into her pajamas and led her into the bathroom. I told her to brush her teeth. My mom looked at me, clearly confused by what I was asking her to do. I asked her if she needed help brushing her teeth and she told me that she had already brushed her teeth that day. I argued that although she had brushed her teeth once in the morning, she needed to brush them again before bed. She insisted that she only brushed her teeth once a day and I insisted that she needed to brush them again at night.

We went back and forth like this for several minutes before she became really agitated with me. I finally decided to let it go and I helped her get into her bed.

Confusion about the argument

The next day, my dad told me that my mom had woken up in the middle of the night, thinking she and my dad had gotten into an argument. He said she was really upset about it and kept him awake for a while. She brought it up again when they woke up in the morning. He had no idea what she was referring to and just assumed it was something she had imagined.

I knew exactly what she had been referring to. I told my dad about our argument the night before when I kept insisting that my mom brush her teeth again before bed. I told him she must have gotten confused about who the argument was with, but clearly, she remembered having an argument with someone and it really upset her. I felt terrible!

Lessons learned

Did it really matter if my mom with mid-stage Alzheimer’s brushed her teeth twice a day?

No.

Did insisting on it and arguing with her about it help the situation in any way?

No.

The minute my mom became agitated at the idea of having to brush her teeth a second time I should have let it go. I had never helped her get ready for bed before, and I wasn’t familiar with her nighttime routine, so I didn’t know any better. But I should have known better not to argue with her about it. I should have just let it go and asked my dad about it later. My mom was clearly upset by this idea and arguing with her only made her more upset, so much so that she kept my dad up in the middle of the night because of it.

Although I regretted this interaction with my mom, I was grateful it happened because I learned the importance of never arguing with someone who has Alzheimer’s. I learned that you have to pick your battles carefully and most of the time, it is simply not worth the agitation it will cause your loved one. I learned to just let it go.

Sometimes you have to ask yourself, “Do I want to be right or do I want to be happy?”

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