Alzheimer’s is a horrible disease; I am certain we all agree. The person living with this disease no longer can function in a normal way. They will do things, say things, get lost physically and mentally and make life utterly difficult and foreign. They will accuse their most trusted child of taking money or things from their home. They will declare they have not eaten a thing all day, but yet just got up from the dinner table. They will treat the one caregiver (maybe the older child) that they see daily and does the most for them with disrespect. Then they will treat the one caregiver (maybe the younger child) that is rarely around with the most excitement and value! They will place things in odd places and reprimand the one person that finds the item and claim they themselves would never have put the thing there! They will stand down when it is bath time and demand they do not need a bath. They will forget they have a spouse or even that they had children. They will hear things and see things, they will make up stories and at times they will totally seem their old self.
Do you think they are doing these things on purpose? Do you think they have a motive when they are being difficult? Please allow me to answer NO to both questions! The person living with this disease is doing the best they can do! You must remember their brain is failing, and their brain is dying. The person living with this disease is the same person you have known and loved. They are the same, but different. This disease affects people in different ways, however there are general affects, but each person has a separate experience.
Can I give you a solution to all the many behaviors you will face in the course of this disease? Frankly, NO I cannot. But I can encourage you to take a positive approach. Stop being so quick to react, step back and observe. Try different ways to approach and respond. If they cannot remember your name why not just tell them your name. Do not attempt the guessing game with them. This is frustrating to them and will be frustrating to you as well. I have seen caregivers question their loved ones at times, for example: “Mama, what’s my name,. You remembered it yesterday. Now come on you know it. Come on now, my feelings are going to be hurt if you do not say my name.”
Another example, “Do you know who this is, Daddy? It’s your cousin, you should know him, what’s his name, come on you know his name.” My goodness, if you are doing this, please think about it and try a different way.
You will certainly have to be innovative when you live with dementia. I work with a caregiver that shared about his wife and her constantly washing clothes. He said she would wash several loads a day, just because she thought the clothes were dirty. He said they would go through large amounts of laundry detergent. He shared instead of getting a large container of detergent he started getting the smaller container. Thus this positive approach worked.
A positive attitude is always best in any situation. Treat people the way you want to be treated, even if they are living with dementia. The person living with any condition of dementia is doing the best they can do. Their brain is dying, we are the ones that have to change. Hope you have a “Best Day Ever”.
Lesia Henderson is a Positive Approach to Care Independent Trainer and Sampson County Department of Aging Family Caregiver Support Specialist.