Using reason and logic is not a winning way to persuade people living with dementia. Why? Because their brains are under attack. The attack actually prevents them from using reason and logic.

That may seem obvious to some, but it’s the big elephant in the room we often miss on this topic. Google “how to win an argument” and the first thing you’ll see is six tips under the headline If your goal is to resolve a conflict, then to “win” might mean you “lose”.

Google “how to win an argument with a person with dementia” and you’ll find page after page of sneaky clickbait titles leading to articles in which all us professionals tell you essentially the same thing: YOU CAN’T WIN!

And yet. We do love to try, don’t we? So let’s look at this from a different angle, beginning with the end in mind: what are you hoping to accomplish by “winning” this argument?

A past student told me she and her husband always argued over exactly the same thing. He would breezily comment, “Looks like it’s going to be a sunny day today!” She would point out to him that No, sir, it was not going to be a sunny day! The paper in fact said, right there in black and white, it was going to rain!

Then, she recounted, her husband would “get in a huff” and demand to know why she always corrected him. Great question, right? I couldn’t wait to hear the answer.

She told me (in a slightly exasperated tone) that she always had to correct him because he was wrong! (If you’re like her, you might be thinking, Duh! Of course that’s why she always has to correct him! But if you’re like me, you’re thinking to yourself, Seriously? So what if he thinks it’s going to be sunny?)  

I honestly don’t think it had ever occurred to her that she didn’t have to correct him; no one was forcing her. Or that it was actually better not to correct him, that it would lead to a better outcome.  I explained this to her, and then we got to the real deal behind this argument: “So I should just hide my intelligence?”

Whaaaat?!

Please know that none of this has anything at all to do with intelligence. As a woman living with Alzheimer’s disease once told me: “You don’t have to tell everything you know.” Just because you know it’s going to rain doesn’t mean you have to say it. It doesn’t make you any less intelligent for keeping it to yourself.

And while we’re on intelligence, let me say for the record: I’ve known people living with dementia with PhDs, who’ve run successful businesses, who were whip-smart. They didn’t suddenly un-know all the things they knew.

They had an illness that prevented their brain from working correctly, from letting them easily access information they were trying to retrieve, or trying to say.

On the other hand, your ability to use reason and logic are not impaired, so you understand that arguing with a person living with dementia is pointless, right? If you keep doing it, ask yourself: What’s your payoff? What are you getting out of arguing?

In the case of the student who felt compelled to correct her husband, he was no longer able to validate her as he once had. She was an accomplished, successful, intelligent woman, and part of the icing on the cake had long been her husband’s admiration of her intelligence. Once that clicked for her, she was able to stop correcting him (with some practice).

Ask yourself what’s really in it for you, and then make the necessary adjustments. If it’s truly just that you don’t know how to get out of the cycle, remember that practice will always make you better (and dementia will give you plenty of opportunities for mastery). If it’s something more than that, talk it through with a professional or trusted friend or support group. You deserve to be happy…and arguing isn’t the way to get there!

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.