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Dear Miriam,

I know this might sound strange, but I’m not sure who else to ask. My father has dementia. Lately, he’s become convinced that he and this woman (let’s just call her Mary) are in love and that we’re keeping him from her. He’s worried that he’s breaking her heart by not visiting her or talking to her. He wants to call her, go see her, and send her things.  Miriam, my father and Mary do not have that type of relationship. She is someone who works at the adult day care he used to go to, is very professional, and happily married to someone else. How do we get my father to back off?

Jesse

Hi Jesse,

This isn’t unusual at all, and I’m glad you asked me about it.

It’s not uncommon for people with dementia to get confused or get stuck in an idea loop which seems to be what’s happening with your father. Telling him he’s wrong isn’t going to change anything: he’s going to forget and probably feel bad in the process. Instead, respond from his reality. Here’s a few things you can try:

  • Redirect him: “Dad, you can call her later, but let’s put the dishes away first.”.
  • Fake it: Write a fake letter “from” her that acknowledges his feelings and lets him down easily. You can show him the letter whenever he brings her up.  Having something tangible can help reinforce the letter’s message.
  • Ask questions: “How did you and Mary meet?” “What do you like about her?” It might seem like these questions are “encouraging” his delusions, but you’re really honoring his reality while the questions engage him and give you more insight into how he’s thinking.

If these don’t work, our Helpline is also available to brainstorm more ideas: 844-435-7259.

Best,
Miriam