For 2022, September has been designated World Alzheimer’s Month and September 22nd will be recognized as World Alzheimer’s Day, so in Oxford and elsewhere around the country, a number of events will be staged to bring greater awareness to this disease and efforts at finding a cure. Senior home care professionals are well acquainted with the symptoms and behaviors exhibited by people who have Alzheimer’s, especially since a great deal of extra care is generally required for these individuals, especially in the later stages of the disease. It can be difficult at times to recognize the person behind the Alzheimer’s mask, given that the disease can alter behaviors so fundamentally.
Personality changes caused by Alzheimer’s
Because the disease causes brain cells to die, it can have a huge impact on how a person behaves, and it can even seem like they have a completely different personality. Those dying brain cells can never be restored, which means that the patient will never get better – they can only get worse once the disease has gripped them. They might have some better or more lucid days at times, then at other times, they could be much worse. Some of the personality changes you might notice in an Alzheimer’s patient are the following:
- hitting you or others, or exhibiting very aggressive behavior
- misunderstanding what they see or hear
- getting angry, upset, or distraught much more easily
- pacing or walking around nervously
- imagining things or situations that are just not there
- wandering away from home aimlessly
- hiding things or believing that others are hiding things from them
- exhibiting depression or losing interest in many of the things they used to love doing
- showing uncharacteristic sexual behavior
Other factors that affect the Alzheimer’s patient
In addition to the disease itself causing personality differences, there is any number of other factors that can trigger odd behaviors from an Alzheimer’s patient. For instance, they could be going through some unusual feelings that are affecting them, such as sadness, fear, confusion, or stress. New medications could be affecting the way a patient behaves, or they may not be getting adequate sleep at night.
Even physical issues, such as deteriorating vision or hearing, persistent constipation, hunger, or thirst, can all contribute to negative behavior on the part of a patient. At various stages of the disease, a patient might become confused by noise in the household, by pets that are very active, and even by mirrors that make them see more people than are actually present. All these behaviors can also make it difficult to see the patient behind the Alzheimer’s mask, and you can even lose sight of the person altogether.
How to look past the mask and see the patient
Obviously, it’s not fair to treat a patient as though they are this collection of bad behaviors and odd personality disorders. Especially if the person is a senior loved one, you should make an effort to see beyond the mask and recognize the person underneath. In order to do this, you’ll have to make a big effort to ignore those personality changes and strange behaviors and keep sight of the fact that this is someone you love and care for. When dealing with your elderly loved one, make a point of keeping things simple, so they don’t get overly confused or anxious.
Establish a regular routine that will make them comfortable, and give them something they can rely on from one day to the next. Make sure to reassure the patient, and let them know you’ll always be there to help them, whenever your assistance may be necessary. Try to focus more on their feelings, their thoughts, and their actions, so they know you are there for them. One thing you should not do is become embroiled in arguments or disagreements with them because they probably won’t have the ability to see things with the same clarity you have – so you have no chance of winning the argument anyway.
If you do become frustrated with your senior loved one, don’t let it show. It’s much better to take a few deep breaths, get control of your emotions, and then reassess the situation. If necessary, go outside or at least leave the room so you can gather yourself and prevent any further deterioration of the situation. Try to inject some humor into the situation, to lighten things up and defuse any issues which may arise.
If your senior happens to be a frequent pacer, make sure they have a safe place to do their walking, because that’s a relief mechanism for them. One tactic that is especially effective is to ask the patient for help in accomplishing some task, whether you actually need help or not. If they feel needed, sometimes that’s all it takes to help an Alzheimer’s patient settle down and forget all about some supposed grievance or problem.