I don’t know about you, but when I’m lost, scared, and in unfamiliar surroundings, I tend to get a little mean myself. For a person with Alzheimer’s, this state of fear and agitation never really stops. Even if they remember who you are, who they are, and where they are, five minutes from now they may lose it. One of the best things we can do as caregivers is to lovingly detach from their tangled emotions and not take what they say or do personally.
Easier said than done.
Alzheimer’s can cause the areas of the brain that house our emotions to go haywire—those feelings of mania, anger, and anxiety are all lit up even where there hasn’t been a trigger event to cause such feelings. Understanding why our spouses or parents are “acting mean” can help us realize that they can’t remember what we said five minutes ago, they can’t necessarily control their unpredictable and unstable emotions, and they can’t always feel love or connection with us. Also know that drug interactions can aggravate behavior and increase feelings of paranoia—so mention any changes to your loved one’s doctor.
I grieved when I lost my mother to Alzheimer’s. I grieved when I finally hit that wall and knew she didn’t know me and didn’t feel anything for me. It felt so cold. So lonely. And yet I had to keep on keeping on, as the saying goes. I had to do intimate things for her—change her clothes, bathe her, brush her hair—and yet to her, I was a “nobody.”
Finally, I turned the corner. I chose to remember for the two of us. Her “mean” behavior didn’t throw me nearly as much. I would be our anchor. I would love when she couldn’t. I would show kindness and patience when she couldn’t.
Yes, there are neurological explanations for Alzheimer’s behavior, but the bottom line is that we—the daughters, sons, spouses, friends, and caregivers—have to dig deep and choose to go on, to love, and to act with maturity and grace—regardless.