Sep 3, 2015

Accepting Repetitive Alzheimer's Behavior as the New Normal

It was only after I finally understood that the behaviors my mother was engaging in were normal for a person living with Alzheimer's disease that I was able to finally accept Alzheimer's.

Alzheimer's and  Accepting Repetitive Behavior as the New Normal
I contemplated the problem for years.

how can you stop a person that has Alzheimer's disease from asking the same question over and over?

How can you stop a person living with Alzheimer's disease from engaging in the same behaviors over and over?

Help me.


By Bob DeMarco
+Alzheimer's Reading Room

Not so long ago we enlisted the advice of a geriatric psychiatrist to help us come up with a solution to a problem -- the Alzheimer's patient was shaving four times a day. The simple solution:
...one way to reduce the behavior is to remove all shaving equipment from the home....no access to razors and shaving cream, no shaving. If the person truly has Alzheimer's disease and is at least in the moderate stage, they may likely forget about the shaving and look to something else to fulfill whatever unmet need the shaving represented to the person.
I liked that solution. I liked it because it never dawned on me. I liked it because I learned an important lesson.

But what do you do when someone keeps asking you what day it is? Or, any other repetitive question? Ignore them? Might work.

Do as I did?

I put the newspaper in front of my mother, Dotty, every morning and asked her the day and date before she had a chance to ask me. Sometimes I have to coach her to the top of the newspaper to find the information. I usually do this more than once in day.

It seemed to work. She still asks me during the day what day it is -- but not 20 times or even three times a day.

So I thought, gotcha.

I still kept thinking about this because I wasn't satisfied. I was still getting those same old feelings. At any point in time I might be feeling frustrated, angry, stressed out, or completly baffled.

This is what I knew for certain. I wanted to find solutions to problems I was facing every day as I cared for my mother who had Alzheimer's disease. I had a strong desire to find solutions to common everyday problems faced by Alzheimer's caregiver

I learned that venting about the same problem over and over was going to get me nowhere. I finally realized I was like the hamster running around the wheel. I was running and running and running and when I stopped I was still standing in the same place. I didn't like that feeling. I had a conversation with myself. I said to me, STOP IT. Took a while, but I listened to me.

I realized something had to change and that something was me. I finally understood that my mother wouldn't change -- not ever -- so it was up to me. I was the one that had to change. Good realization. I started working on it.

I concluded that asking questions over and over; or, engaging in behaviors over and over

was normal for my mother who has Alzheimer's disease. 

You read that right. This is a normal behavior for someone living with Alzheimer's disease. This is the norm folks.

This simple realization seemed to bring a feeling of calmness to me. 

I reminded myself over and over -- the behavior is normal. These behaviors are normal for someone living with Alzheimer's disease.

I came to accept these behaviors as normal. As a normal part of my day.

Of our day.

Instead of dreading these behaviors, I now accepted these behaviors.

At that point, I had not yet envisioned Alzheimer's World. But, I was beginning to understand one simple truth --

I could no longer expect my mother to listen, react and behave in the way she had before Alzheimer's disease set in.

This somehow led me to finally understand that my mother was the same loving caring person she had always been.

There was one big difference. Her brain was sick.

I finally understood in a real way that the behavior was being caused by Alzheimer's disease. Her repetitive behaviors were happening because she could not remember.

The fact that she could not remember was not her fault.

You cannot blame a person living with Alzheimer's disease for the things they do. Not in the way you would blame a child, and not in the way you would blame a person for being intentionally mean or disruptive.

Frankly, my mother was not the problem. I was the problem. 

It was my inability to fully understand and accept Alzheimer's disease, and how it affects the person with Alzheimer's that was the problem.

I had not taken the time, or spent the energy to fully understand the problem and its effects.
After repeatedly correcting my mother and watching her get frustrated or angry, I finally realized something had to change -- this something was me. I had to change......

It was only after I finally understood that the behaviors my mother was engaging in were normal for a person living with Alzheimer's disease that I was able to finally accept Alzheimer's disease.

Honestly, once I came to this realization the behaviors stopped bothering me.

Once I was able to reach that point I started to think about how I was going to be able to communicate effectively with my mother. It took a while, but I more or less decided to meet her half way. This is how most people communicate, by meeting half way.

My mother had Alzheimer's. This changed her. She couldn't remember.

I now understood this. So I changed.

Once I changed I searched for the place where we could communicate effectively. I was searching for the "new intersection" in our lives.

This place exists for all of us. All of us Alzheimer's caregivers.

I call it Alzheimer's World. 

This is where you go to meet a person living with Alzheimer's disease "half way".

This is where you go to communicate effectively with someone living with Alzheimer's disease.

You cannot see Alzheimer's World. You can't touch Alzheimer's World. 

But, you can use your mind, your brain, to get to Alzheimer's World.

Ironic, isn't it?

And now to my point.

In order to deal effectively with repetitive questions and repetitive behaviors you must first come to a simple realization and understanding --

these behaviors might seem bizarre to you but these behaviors are the "norm" for the person living with Alzheimer's.

If you are able to accept the "new normal" you will be surprised to learn that these same behaviors that are so disconcerting aren't so hard to accept. With acceptance comes understanding.

Once you come to the acceptance of the "new normal" you become calmer, more caring, and more understanding.

Instead of trying to do the impossible and change "them", you will be the one to change and adapt.

Once you become calmer and more understanding so does the person that has Alzheimer's.

After all, you decided to meet them half way.

Instead of trying to change them, you accept the person living with Alzheimer's.

Pretty soon this new treatment: caring and understanding, changes the way a person living with Alzheimer's feels and acts.

I guess you could say, they decide to meet you half way.

It is at this point in time you enter a genuine brave new world --

Alzheimer's World.

I assure you, once you get there things will change for the better. It is at this point in time that you come to the most important acceptance of them all -- 


the acceptance that they cannot remember.

It isn't easy, maybe impossible, to stop a person from engaging in some repetitive behaviors. So in order to change the dynamic you are the one that must change.

Once you change the dynamic the behavior might go away or lessen.

This happens because you are now engaged with the person living with Alzheimer's disease. This new engagement can lead to new, more productive, happier behaviors.

With change and acceptance of the norm come changes in behavior and changes in the pattern of caring.

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Original content Bob DeMarco, the Alzheimer's Reading Room