One of the biggest issues we face as Alzheimer's caregivers is learning to understand how a person living with dementia thinks and feels, and why they act the way they do.
The changes that come with dementia can be distressing to a caregiver.
As caregivers we often feel angry, disconcerted and sometimes, we feel a sense of heavy burden, hopelessness, and even heartbreak.
By Bob DeMarco
Alzheimer's Reading Room
As caregivers we deal with more than changes in memory. We deal with changes in behavior.
Alzheimer's patients, especially in the beginning, experience changes in personality. They can easily become irritable, anxious, experience anxiety, and often act depressed. Their behavior can change abruptly and often for the worse.
For many reason it is difficult to adjust to these new behaviors by a person we have known all or most of our life.
For example. I am often told by caregivers that their loved one is being mean to them. I ask, were they mean to you before the diagnosis of Alzheimer's or another type of dementia? Most often they answer, No. I then ask, what do you think the cause of their behavior is? I ask, are they being intentionally mean to you; or, is it the changes in their brain that are causing this meanness?
I understand how caregivers feel. My mother, in the beginning, was meaner to me that a junkyard dog. Imagine her saying,
"Get out, I don't need you, I can take care of myself"
As is obvious, she could no longer live without me, or someone to take care of her. So there I was caring for her 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and it really did appear on the surface that she didn't want me around.
In order to understand, cope, and communicate with a person living with Alzheimer's you really do need to ask yourself some questions.
First, why is the person acting this way? Is it by their nature or because they are suffering from an illness?
Second, when they are acting mean you have to ask yourself, why are they acting mean?
Are they confused? Scared? Remember, it is not about how you are feeling. You might be feeling fine, the question is what are they feeling, how are they feeling?
It is clear to me after interacting with thousands of Alzheimer's caregivers that challenging behaviors: agitation, meanness, and sometimes physical abuse are often the result of the caring model; and, the inability of the caregiver to learn that some dementia patients can't be left alone, and that, like it or not, they need a lot of attention.
Yes persons living with dementia need attention, or they need to be engaged in activities. So it is the job of the caregiver to develop a steady daily routine to accommodate the needs of a person who in fact is deeply forgetful and can't do it for themselves without guidance.
Most caregivers agree that a steady daily routine improves the behavior of a person living with dementia. And, at the same time improves the life of the caregiver.
Sitting the person in front of the television is fine if you are watching television with them. However, using the television as a "baby sitter" won't work well in the long run. The brain of the patient must be kept active if you want to avoid meanness and act outs like sundowning.
Here are some custom searches that should help you understand and deal with the challenging behaviors that most of encounter each and every day.
How to Test Your Memory for Alzheimer's (5 Best Tests)
How to Choose a Memory Care or Assisted Living Facility for Your Loved One
Communication in Alzheimer's World
The Alzheimer's Caregiver Blame Game
The Connection Between UTI and Worsening Dementia
Bob DeMarco is the Founder of the Alzheimer's Reading Room (ARR). The ARR Knowledge Base contains more than 5,000 articles and 554,000 links. Bob lives in Delray Beach, FL.
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