Understanding the Changes of Alzheimer’s Disease

Grown woman with her old mother.

While many people think of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia as primarily affecting person’s memory and thinking, family who are providing care for these loved ones quickly realize that one of the greatest challenges is the behavior changes that can occur as the disease progresses. It’s difficult, for instance, to not take a sudden act of aggression or hostility personally.

To cope with challenging behaviors, it’s always important to remember that the changes you’re seeing are a result of the disease. It’s important to understand that these behaviors are an expression of your loved one’s needs, at a time when expression is more challenging. Try to remember what the person was like before the disease and imagine how that person would feel about what’s happening to them. This may help give you the compassion and patience you need to continue loving and caring for this person who has meant so much to you. A sense of humor doesn’t hurt either! Additionally, there are some things everyone can do help their loved one, while keeping the stress at a minimum.

See a doctor. Some of the behaviors you’re witnessing may be caused or exacerbated by something beyond the disease, such as side effects of medication, an infection, or some underlying medical issue. That’s why it’s important to contact your loved one’s physician if your loved one exhibits a sudden change in behavior. The doctor may be able to identify an issue that is treatable, which may improve matters. And while there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, certain medications may help ease the symptoms.

Learn their language. Behavioral issues may also be caused because of an unmet need. Acting out may be your loved one’s way of saying, “I need something.” If you’re noticing abnormal behavior, try to determine if your loved one is:

  • Hungry or thirsty
  • Tired or fatigued
  • In pain
  • Frightened
  • Needing to use the toilet

Once you’re able to make a connection between a specific behavior and a need, it’s easier to diminish or eliminate the unwanted behavior.

Validate their experience. Never correct your loved one if they misremember a past event or don’t know what year it is. Doing so will simply cause more agitation. If they say “Christmas is coming!” in March, ask them to share with you their favorite Christmas memories. Likewise, if you witness an outburst of emotion and they say someone is trying to steal from them, don’t say “No one’s trying to steal anything from you, Mom.” Instead, validate their experience by saying you understand why someone would be upset at that and then provide some reassurance such as “We’ll get you a lockbox to keep your things safe.” You can validate their feelings without having to validate the veracity of what they’ve said.

Develop a routine. People with dementia feel safest when they know what’s coming. Try to create a day for them that’s similar to the day before. If they know what to expect, they’ll be less likely to become upset.

Take a break. Caregiving is a demanding job. It’s important to take care of yourself, including exercising, eating well and getting enough rest. If you need a day to yourself, find a local senior care or senior living community that offers adult day care or respite care. You may discover that having your loved one move to a memory care community permanently may be the best option. But for those who want to keep their loved one at home longer, an adult day center or in-home care services can allow them to keep their loved one home longer while taking care of their own needs.

Join a support group. Finally, it’s important to realize that you are not alone. There are many people who share your concerns and are willing to help you in managing the challenges you face. To find a support group near you, contact the local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association or Area Agency on Aging. They can help you locate a local or online support group as well as other organizations that can help.

Source: IlluminAge AgeWise

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