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How to distinguish between automatic phrases and the real ones


Registered User
Jan 29, 2009
Hello all - wonder if anyone can give me any clues on the dilemma I currently have with Mum please.

(Mum has Vas Dem and I support her mostly by phone as I live 80 miles away)

Mum has begun saying things that are seemingly either a phrase off pat:

"Has the carer been in for your tea yet?"

"Yes thank you, it was very nice."

Further roundabout remarks and I find out the carer hasn't been yet.

I thought maybe an open ended "question" wouldn't put an idea in her head and so try asking "what have you been doing this afternoon? /Has anyone been in to see you?"

Sometimes I can then lead it into a conversation depending on the answer and sometimes not and find out what has been happening.

Then there are the sympathy responses (and I am aware that some may think I am sounding harsh)

An example: Phoned Mum this morning at 8, chatting away to her whilst she is still in bed, we sang some songs, had a laugh or two - all tickety boo. Carer comes in - "How are you today?" "Oh I am so muddled and don't know what to do / what is happening" and immediately puts on this "woe is me" voice. Literally a few seconds before I had reminded her we were chatting whilst we waited for Emma and she said "oh that's OK"

Another one is how she changes how she is either depending on who it is or if you say either that you are going to ring off (but always say I will ring back later/ when I am home etc) or the carer is leaving etc and from being fine she then puts on this half sob voice and says she is lonely/ frightened/ upset. I either ask her why she feels like that (answer is she doesn't know) or ask why she is speaking in a silly voice to which she replies normally that she is not - she is fine! "What are you talking about?!"

She always did like to put things on for a bit of effect and I wonder if the dementia has aggravated this? If I ask why is she worried/ nervous - she either flatly denies it and accuses me of trying to upset her or asks why I want to know. So I say that maybe I can help her feel better if I can check something or let her know what is happening etc.

The difficulty I have with all of these things is when to know if its genuine. She can as easily say she has eaten her meal (carer arrives and its untouched) been to the loo (carer comes in and commode has not been used) or, one of the ones that worries me most, she has drunk whichever cup of drink I mention which I know has been put out for her. If I say that I am worried she hasn't eaten / drunk etc, she has and the carers are effing liars :(

She will insist that the radio isn't there, her drink, tablets or whatever and then when she finds them (this is on the table by her side) and after lots of abuse because I try to coax her to, for example, pick up the brown glass mug with her juice and its "Not there - I bloody told you its not so shut up" - I am accused of trying to upset her.

(Hope you haven't fallen asleep by now!)

It used to work that I could change the subject and then come back to it by a devious route and get the information in a different way but that rarely works now. I know a lot of things don't matter in the greater scheme of things but things like drinking and to a slightly lesser degree eating, and if she is frightened or doesn't feel well - I mostly need to try and find an answer if I can - and then try to work out if its the correct one....

How can I tell if she has a real reason to be frightened or worried? Or if she genuinely feels not well?

Maybe its impossible - but thought there may be someone here who has been through something similar and has worked out little ways to make it easier.



60's child

Registered User
Apr 23, 2013
Hi Celia
Its so difficult isnt it? I have similar problems with My Mum but luckily I now live next door so it is easier to keep an eye on what is happening. I used to know by her tone of voice when things were not good.Now when I walk in and call out hello I either get a "yoo hoo" which is good or a "hello" which means something is wrong..
Recently Mum told me she had already eaten. I knew she had not as she does not cook for herself sp persuaded her to have some dinner which she reluctantly had ( she has lost so much weight recently). It turns out she had eaten...! Her friend had popped round and taken her out to lunch. I felt awful as I did not believe her when she said she had eaten. Poor Mum :) I do find Mum has standard things she now says which dont mean anything. I try to read between the lines but am probably wrong on many occasions. I hope you find a way of "reading between the lines" Not easy I know.
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Registered User
Jan 29, 2009
I I do find Mum has standard things she now says which dont mean anything. I try to read between the lines but am probably wrong on many occasions. I hope you find a way of "reading between the lines" Not easy I know.
Dee x

Oh thanks Dee - glad you understand and thanks for the phrase "standard things she now says which don't mean anything" - that's a quicker way of saying it!

It is hard and I worry that I will get something wrong or miss something important - plus when she is nasty when I am trying to help her - really gets me down.

Thanks for replying x


Registered User
Sep 7, 2012
Oh Celia, going through a bit of it with my Mam at the moment.

She says she hasn't seen middle sister for years, yet her notes about meds are on the white board from 9am this morning.

She DOESN'T want anything to eat..'What ARE you doing in there?'

She told big sister to go, this evening...

She wandered to the paper shop and played war about papers not being delivered, Linda from the shop rang me as I had left my number with her in case I forgot to pay the paper bill....
I drove over to get her and was greeted with love, delight and cuddles.

'You're not running my life' she said to big sis.

I rang her just now and she is sweetness and light.
I think she has a chest infection so I'm phoning doctors 8am in the morning.

I don't know if it's any easier to second guess, face to face.

It's almost impossible and dreadfully worrying.
Much love and sympathy. xxx


Registered User
Apr 19, 2012
My brother and I talk about our Mum using her "scripts". She has standard answers to questions, and stock phrases that she uses, regardless of what is actually going on. Thankfully we haven't had to cope with accusations etc so far, but we are both caring from a long distance, each phoning every day, and we know that it is pointless to ask her if she has eaten etc because the answer will not have any connection to the truth.

Sometimes visitors who call by briefly think she is fine because she does a very good job of sounding as if she is having a normal conversation, with her stock phrases about the weather and the garden etc. But if you ask her a specific question then she can't understand it and the answer will either be very vague or make no sense at all.

Sorry I can't help with answers, but I certainly know what you mean