When we think of Alzheimer’s disease the focus tends to be on memory loss. And certainly that is a big part of the disease. What is less often discussed, however, are the behavior changes that can occur as the disease progresses.
For family caregivers these changes can be extremely disturbing as they witness the person who raised them develop new and strange personality changes, often in direct contrast to the once loving, caring individuals they were in earlier times.
Why does this happen?
Since Alzheimer’s disease impacts several areas of the frontal portion of the brain, behavior patterns associated with those areas become impaired. In addition to memory, the frontal lobe also controls our impulses as well as the ability to focus and maintain control. When disrupted, this can lead to aberrant behavior.
The Alzheimer’s Association has developed a list of behavioral changes associated with Alzheimer’s disease. They may include the following:
- Lack of interest in activities that were once enjoyable.
- Decreased sensitivity to others.
- Delusional thinking.
- Withdrawing socially.
- Reluctance to take initiative.
- Paranoid thinking.
Here are some tips that we have found helpful to family caregivers to better cope with these changes:
- Keep as calm as possible. While this can be very difficult it is important to keep your composure, since your loved one will be influenced by all that occurs around them. If you appear agitated, it may fuel their erratic behavior.
- Seek possible causes of the behavior. Try to identify what occurred right before the behavior. Were they frustrated? Tired? What was going on around them? By identifying triggers to the behavior, you can work to minimize or even eliminate them.
- Accept what you cannot control. This is where positive self-talk can really help. Remind yourself that the behavior is part of the disease and not the choice of your loved one. It is also not the result of anything you have done or said.
- Encourage humor and shared laughter. It’s not always easy to find humor in situations that can be so confusing and stressful. However, caregivers tell use regularly that when they are able to share a laugh with their loved one, that laughter has the power to quickly dispel the anxiety and bring a sense of calmness to the situation.
- Seek professional support. If you haven’t already done so, make it a point to attend a dementia support group. These groups can be a lifesaver, creating a nurturing, supportive environment where caregivers can share their issues and feelings among others who have similar experiences. Anthem Memory Care communities host monthly support groups, free of charge and always conducted by professionals.
While memory impairment is certainly the hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease, behavioral changes such as inappropriate behavior, mood swings and aggression can all be part of the disease. Learning to deal with them can be frustrating. However, by gaining a better understanding of this aspect of the disease you will be able to identify possible triggers, along with gaining a better sense of control over the situation. This, along with caring for your own mental health will help you continue to interact in positive ways with your loved one and help carry you through the challenging days.