If you’ve had toddlers or teenagers, then you know that the power of suggestion vs outright commands or demands can be a very useful tool indeed.

I am learning that the same applies to my 90 year old mother!

And the latest challenge is the big A – ACAT.

For some people – and I must say, in my personal experience talking with friends and family who are helping elderly parents or relatives, it’s pretty much all – ACAT is the Anti-Christ!

And what I mean by that, is that for many elderly people, it’s something to be feared and resisted at all costs, because it means you’re incompetent, and if you’re suffering with paranoia, potentially it’s the path to being put away.

Our first ACAT experience was for my stepdad Rex, and it was a disaster!

I had not realised at that stage that I needed to go back and revisit the tools I used when I had toddlers and teenagers.

My parents were living independently, but fair to say that Rex’s capacity was such that my mother was responsible for virtually everything, and my mother’s competence was diminishing.

At that time, mum was 89 and Rex was 97, so the stress for mum was significant, and we could all see that in the not-too-distant future, things would simply be too much for my her to cope with.

ACAT Process Takes Time

In terms of getting them some help, we realised the ACAT assessment process takes time, so we needed to get things into place ready for when the time came that they did actually need help.

Together with my stepsister, we put the wheels in motion.

My mother was kept in the loop with what was happening, but from the outset she was resistant – actually, hostile is a better word.

Unfortunately, she has always been fiercely independent, and typically, completely averse and resistant to any kind of help in general.

And her tendency to take any suggestion of assistance, particularly where Rex was concerned, as a direct criticism of her own ability to cope, just added to a level of volatility none of us had expected.


So the day of the assessment came, and my stepsister arrived early to prepare mum and Rex for the visit and to greet the assessor.

I arrived just after the assessor, and when I rang the intercom bell, was greeted with what I can best describe as an angry hornet (my mother) on the end of the line.

The only good thing was that I had the 6-level lift journey to calm and prepare myself, and to think carefully about what I would say.

Words have Power

That was the moment I realised that the words I used, and how I put this all to mum was crucial, and that I could potentially change her view in how I approached her.

My initial reaction was to defend myself and my stepsister.

To say to mum that she knew this was happening, and that she was making it very difficult for us to help her and Rex, bla bla bla.

On that lift journey, I repositioned myself, calmed myself (lots of ommm ommm and talking to myself) and brought through the door only thoughts of kindness, compassion and consideration of her feelings.

Those feelings undoubtedly were that she felt incompetent to look after Rex, that we were taking over their lives, that we were inflicting things on them that they didn’t want, that we were challenging their independence.

And the big one – that we would take Rex away.

When I knocked on the door and she answered – again, think angry hornet – I have never seen her so hostile in my life.

With my approach firmly in my mind, in 5 minutes, I had calmed her down, reassured that

Rex would be going nowhere, and importantly, that she needed to be beside her darling to help him

If you have any knowledge of the ACAT assessment, it is gruelling to say the least.  It takes several hours, and consists of tens and tens of truly invasive questions on every single facet of a person’s life from the practical to the very personal.

Was she happy.  NO NO NO!

But she hung in there with Rex, and we got through it.

What was interesting – not surprising I guess – was the level of “embroidery” of the truth.

There were several times through the interview when my stepsister and I looked at one another and both thought:

“OMG, that is a blatant lie!”

But you know I don’t actually think they were “lying” per se.

I think that people are so fearful of being taken over, that they say what they feel they need to, to keep their independence.

It was funny and sad all at the same time.

Predictably, the assessor had seen it all before, so when my stepsister and I walked down to the car with her, she wasn’t at all surprised to hear that some of the information wasn’t QUITE accurate.

So now it’s my mother’s turn for an ACAT assessment.

She has been formally diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Dementia, and so the process was a little less onerous for us this time – thank goodness for just a wonderful team of people who have made this first step of getting a booking easy.

Now for the next step of bringing mum on board.

It’s about 5 months since Rex died, 18 months or so since that dreaded ACAT assessment day.

Mum’s condition has deteriorated significantly, and a lot of the old “fight” has disappeared. 

She is very, very much more dependent – and she knows that, and worries about all that we do to help her.

But I want to make sure that I hold the line that I found in the lift that day. This time, my approach will not be that this is all about helping her. It will be that this is about her making it easy to help us.

Who do you know that’s just not managing the day to day because of memory problems?

Whether it’s because of dementia, an acquired brain injury or a mental illness – the result is stress and worry for individuals and for families and carers.

We can help!

For more information visit our website www.membonoticeboard.com or contact us by email info@membonoticeboard.com or by phone 07 3880 4535