I missed the boat celebrating Festivus, that made-up Seinfeld holiday for December 23rd, but I’m going to take one of its four main components out for a spin today, anyway: The Airing of Grievances. To paraphrase Frank Costanza: “I’ve got a lot of problems with [how people with dementia are treated, viewed, and valued], and now you’re going to hear about it!”

That said, I think pitching a bitch is only useful to the extent it identifies a problem. After that, I’m all about moving on to solutions. So expect the solution, or different way of looking at the problem, after each grievance. For brevity’s sake, I’ve narrowed it down to this list of my 7 least-favorite quotes and lies (+ a bonus).

“I don’t bother to visit anymore because she doesn’t recognize me/know my name.”/”The lights are on but nobody’s home.” People living with dementia pick up on your energy; your name or face isn’t the main draw. It also takes longer for their brains to warm up. While you may not be recognized at first, that doesn’t mean you won’t later be rewarded with a glimmer of recognition. Of course, it doesn’t mean you will be, either. The main thing is to show up with as much love as you can possibly express. People living with dementia always recognize love, right up to their last breath. You just may not get the immediate gratification of seeing it with your eyes. No, they aren’t able to communicate and connect in the same they used to. But there are ways you can still communicate and connect with them, these people who raised you, sacrificed for you, supported you, rooted for you, and loved you to the best of their ability. If you feel that doesn’t accurately describe your parents, by all means, go ahead and bow out. But if it does, try hanging out in the moment with them and loving them just as they are right now.

“I’ll put a gun in my mouth before I live like that.” No statement more succinctly reflects the fact that as a society, we have no use for people living with dementia. They are considered a burden, a drain, and a waste of time and space and money. I understand nobody wants to have dementia, myself included. But I’d ask us all, collectively, to hit the pause button before making grand pronouncements about the relative attractiveness of a violent suicide and carefully consider how much we contribute to the “live like that” part. Do we visit regularly? Do we make an effort to connect in a way that our loved one can comprehend? Do we show up with respect, kindness, and love? Do we make an effort to be fully present in the moment? Do we willingly step into their reality (or do we try to drag them into ours)? Do we put any focus at all on creating moments of joy?

“There’s nothing wrong with Mom/Dad; it’s all in your head.” This bit of “wisdom” is typically expressed to the rest of the family by the family member who visits once or twice a year, or the one who lives in the basement rent-free and “helps out” by making sure the pension checks get cashed. This is also typically a bunch of nonsense. Start planning now to work around this person; the likelihood of their seeing the light is slim, despite your best efforts to show them.

“She’s just doing it for attention.” This one makes me want to scream, “Seriously? Can you hear yourself?” Off the top of my head, I can think of about 10 things that are easier to pull off than “pretending” to have dementia. This statement is likeliest to come out of the mouth of the aforementioned far away or basement-dwelling family member. Take this bit of “wisdom” as seriously as you’d take childrearing advice from Mommie Dearest.

“Even though we don’t have memory care, we can still take care of your dad here.” Why the community relations/sales person’s pants don’t burst into flame on the spot is beyond me. This is a ginormous, egregious lie…unless you’re pretty casual about that whole “take care of” part. Assisted living is for people who need some assistance and know how to ask for it and are going to be okay until they get it. Who it’s not for is people who need a specialized environment to set them up for success; people who need cueing and reminders and direction and structure; people who need specially trained staff. All those necessities are found in memory care.

“Seroquel/Zyprexa/Geodon/Risperdone/Haldol/Abilify will help her sleep/relax/be less anxious.” Another egregious and dangerous lie. All of those drugs are antipsychotics, which can be a godsend for people with diagnoses of bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. What these drugs actually do for people living with dementia is make it harder for them to communicate what’s really happening for them (hence, “behaviors,” because they’re trying their butts off to tell you what’s really happening for them–like untreated pain, for example); increase their risk of heart attack by 30% on average; increase their risk of stroke by 70% on average; increase their overall risk of falls; and shave an average of 2-3 years off their lives. Essential oils such as lavender or geranium (spritzed in the air, on a pillowcase, and/or in a diffuser on a high shelf) are great for reducing anxiety and helping people relax and sleep; so is a day full of activity and connection.

“You just need to focus and try harder.” This is an actual quote from a neurologist to one of my clients during a cognitive test. Four years later, I’m still delighted I terminated the appointment and we left. People living with dementia are human beings worthy of being treated with respect, kindness, and love. Period. I promise, they’re doing the very best they can in any given moment. Be compassionate.

BONUS: Any “joke” about cognitive loss. I used to be really stumped about how to handle this because I was so perplexed as to why anyone would do it in the first place. Finally, I just decided to be honest. Now when someone tells me a “joke” about cognitive loss, I just say, “I don’t get it. Can you explain the funny part?” 

Whew, I feel better now 😉 Do you have your own Festivus list? Share in the comments below!

Christy Turner is the founder of DementiaSherpa.com (CTC Dementia Care Management) and has enjoyed the privilege of working with over 1,045 people living with dementia and their families. Follow on Facebook, Google+, Instagram, Periscope, Pinterest, Twitter, and YouTube. Content varies daily across platforms.