Taking care of a loved one when they are suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or dementia is a very challenging task as we all know. It’s probably one of the hardest things that you will ever have to do in your lifetime, but it is also a monumental accomplishment.
In the beginning, you will notice small things like forgetfulness and little things that might seem like unusual behavior, but even then, you might brush it off as a result of stress or being over scheduled. When the episodes become more frequent and you find yourself standing there scratching your head, because you know that there is something very real happening to them. Instinctively, you know, that life will never be the same for you or them.
(Photos) (1) Eleanor Van Meter with her grandmother. So young and pretty! (2) Eleanor, Mom, with my father, Edward Brophy on a boat, somewhere, appearing to be enjoying themselves…with her whole life ahead of her. Who knew what the future would bring?
The behaviors, of course can vary with each individual, but many of the behaviors, I have found strangely enough, to be identical to other patients suffering from this disease, leading me to believe that the same part of the brain is effected in all patients at this stage of the disease. As in the case with my mother, Eleanor Van Meter, as she started into her journey with dementia, I found that she would be very paranoid. She would always be hiding things and then forgetting where she hid them. When she couldn’t recall where she hid them, she would make a beeline straight for me, accusing me of everything under the sun. I’d be sitting at the computer in my kitchen, where I normally would be on a Sunday afternoon, and she would shuffle in with a puss on her face a mile long and fury in her eyes, heading straight over to me. “Where are my credit cards, where are my medical cards? You took them, I know that you did…you were always a rotten kid, I should have never had you, you little shit.” The first time that happened, I was completely taken off guard, immediately I felt hurt because of her words and then I became defensive while declaring loudly that I never touched her things…I wouldn’t do that. In the beginning, I didn’t know how to handle this, knowing that I didn’t steal anything, but at the same time not knowing how to speak with her about it so as to not fuel the fire making it worse. Actually, in the beginning, you are so taken off guard, you are not thinking of anything except defending yourself and your honor against their harsh words. That train of thought would soon would change…
Through the school of hard knocks, I learned first hand, that arguing with someone who has dementia is an argument that you will never win. Never, never, never, ever try to argue with your loved one with dementia. You will NEVER win…EVER! They have a way of going around and around and in the end, you will be so frustrated that you will want to cry or explode, whichever comes first. So, how do we speak with our demented parents in that situation? I came to learn, first and foremost, be calm, speak softly, slowly and with compassion about them having lost their things. There is nothing that you can say that will make them believe that they hid it somewhere, forgetting where they put it. They can’t remember that little fact. They only remember where the object always resided before. Their brains are not working correctly anymore and certainly not in the way yours works. They honestly believe that you stole their things….because they certainly wouldn’t have moved anything themselves.
It’s important to sympathize with their loss and that the missing object will probably turn up, and how sorry you are that they can’t find it. Chances are, they won’t believe a word you are saying, but at least in the end, you know that you spoke with them in a loving way and that you tried not to upset them any more than they already are. Validating their feelings and their loss will only help the situation and you stand a better chance of calming them down and snapping them out of the dementia attack.
You might want to try and change the conversation to something else, such as I used to do with my mother. In hard times such as this, I would ask her if she would like to listen to Pavarotti, her favorite singer. She would always agree and we’d go back into her room and I’d pop the cd into the player, she would sit there listening as if she was in a trance, forgetting about her earlier concerns. This was usually the best part of her day and I was happy to see the peaceful look on her face once again as she appeared to almost be floating on every note that Pavarotti was singing. That was heaven on earth to her.
Funny thing, most times when my mother snapped out of a dementia attack, after accusing me of stealing things, later, she would always come to me and apologize.
I would ask her, you remember acting that way? She would say yes…I can’t seem to stop once it starts. I always found that amazing…it was living proof to me that she was very aware that there was something very wrong with her.