Aug 6, 2013

People with Alzheimer’s Say The Darndest Things

Collectively navigating the uncharted waters of caring for a loved one with Dementia is always a work in progress. The only predictable aspect of Alzheimer’s is its unpredictability.

By Elaine C. Pereira
+Alzheimer's Reading Room

People with Alzheimer’s Say The Darndest Things

The 1995 Bill Cosby Show, Kids Say The Darndest Things, profiled the spontaneous, brutally honesty and often hilarious remarks and observations that kids make.

Young people aren't inhibited by social norms nor expectations, so they are often uncensored, unfiltered, unscripted and undaunted.

The result was a side splitting delightful program with real kids saying real things sometimes to the chagrin of adults.

Subscribe to the Alzheimer's Reading Room


Related Content

Like many with Dementia, my mother’s “filters” were unpredictable; sometimes she was socially savvy and at other times she was, well, “off,” putting it politely.

Her usually poised and outgoing demeanor unraveled, dissolving into suspicion and paranoia: someone “stole two pair of brown pants” (probably donated years earlier. And just the brown ones; how odd!), the homes-for-sale section of the newspaper (she’s moving? News to me!), “seven dollars worth of stamps” (I don’t know about you, but I have no idea how many dollars-worth of stamps I have on hand, if any).

Sometimes she sounded like a hissing feline with serious cattitude! Mom’s always-in-control persona cracked, slowly at first, but eventually splintering into deep fissures. Most of the time Mom’s “dementitude” could be deflected with patient redirection. After all if you waited long enough Mom would “forget” what she was upset about and move onto something else.

Alzheimer’s is a serious, progressive neurological disease not to be trivialized. That said, however, caregivers survive the crazy ideas, illogical thinking, outbursts and everything else unimaginable to the rest of us, seeing the humor and accepting their loved one’s “reality” amidst the bizarre.

The stories are endless but some great ones are featured below. Enjoy and, depending on where you are at personally in your caregiving journey, maybe grab a Kleenex.

Stealing the Spoons Contributed by Marie Marley, PhD author of the award-winning memoir Come Back Early Today.

“After finishing each meal at the nursing home, Ed would always clean his spoon with a napkin, wrap it in another napkin, put it in the breast pocket of his sport coat and take it back to his room. He knew very well that he shouldn’t be stealing those spoons.

Pretty soon his room would have spoons all over the place so the staff would go get them and return them to the kitchen. But sure enough, the next day he would start a new collection.

So they decided to start giving him plastic spoons, hoping he wouldn’t find those appealing enough to steal. It worked for a while, but soon he started collecting those as well.

I often sat with him when he was eating and had observed this behavior many times. Finally, one day when he started his cleaning ritual I said to him, “Don’t take that spoon, Ed. It doesn’t belong to you. It belongs to the facility.”

“Oh, no!” he said, loudly. “I take them every day with no remorse!”

Dog Eared Dog’s Ears. Contributed by Elaine C Pereira, author of the award-winning memoir I Will Never Forget.

“What’s the dog’s name?” Mom asked me again, for the fifth time possibly.

“Bailey,” I answered.

Bailey was a beautiful but energetic golden retriever. At only two years old, he was still a puppy. But there was something about my mom’s soft, lulling voice and mannerisms that he responded to very well, as if transfixed around her. Bailey just sat there, leaning into her while she rubbed his ears.

Her next remark, however, was bizarre. “When he dies, I want his ears.”

What? “I’m not sure what you mean, Mom?”

“You know, when Bailey,” she remembered his name this time, “dies, I would like to have his ears removed so I could rub them all the time. They’re very soft.” Was she kidding? I honestly wasn’t sure. I was about to respond when it got worse. “I had dog’s ears when I was younger, but they might not have been this soft.”

Okay. Now I knew for sure she was goofy. What an odd and creepy thing to say.

“Well, Mom, Bailey is still rather young, so he could live a long time yet.” How was that? I was getting better at diffusing strange remarks to avoid confrontations or disrespect her in any way.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s or Somewhere? Contributed by Tinky Weisblat, author of the new release Pulling Taffy.

“My late mother was eternally sociable. We often stayed with my brother and sister-in-law. Although my mother wasn’t always sure who they were, she was always happy to be with them.

One morning at their house she came down to breakfast apparently under the impression that she was in an inn of some sort. She gave her breakfast order to my sister-in-law, who was fortunately not put out by being mistaken for a waitress.

She then turned to my brother (her son) and said, “How do you do? My name is Jan.” She put out her hand to shake hands.

She chatted happily to this perceived stranger through breakfast. My brother later reported that she was a charming breakfast companion. She didn’t figure out where she was that morning or whom she was with, but she enjoyed the meal and the company immensely.”

In Summary

Collectively navigating the uncharted waters of caring for a loved one with Dementia is always a work in progress. The only predictable aspect of Alzheimer’s is its unpredictability. 

 My mom was different from one day to the next and typically within the same day. Her patchwork quilt of reality was a blend of her “real” past and her created present.

 It’s up to us to adapt to our loved ones with Dementia wherever they are at any given moment: past, present or future.

Elaine C. Pereira is the author of I Will Never Forget - A Daughter's Story of Her Mother's Arduous and Humorous Journey Through Dementia, and a finalist for the Best New Non-Fiction USA Book Awards & The Hollywood Book Festival.

Original content Alzheimer's Reading Room.