Dakim Blog

January 22, 2010

Why Do People With Alzheimer’s Act So Mean?

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Written by: Dakim

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.

June 10, 2009

Caregiver, Are You Lonely? 3 Keys to Making New Friends

Written by: Dakim

As adults, it’s embarrassing to admit we get lonely. We think that it makes us sound like a 14 year old, but loneliness strikes at any age and at any time of life–and we’re especially vulnerable when we’re caregiving.

Here’s an excerpt I wrote about feeling lonely (from Mothering Mother)

Losing Me and the One Year Mark

I dash out the door, for a quick run to the pharmacy, hit with a crisp November day. It’s clear and bright and there’s a chill in the air. I go back in and grab my blue-jean jacket. I drive through my neighborhood and notice a guy out for a stroll with two dogs, each pulling its leash in different directions. A group of women in polar fleece sleeveless vests push strollers and are walking as fast as they’re talking. I don’t even know them. A group of friends to walk with in my own neighborhood, how nice.

The leaves are cascading down on a stiff breeze, a gust of golden leaves twirls to the ground. It looks as if it’s snowing gold. I clip past house after house, my eyes taking in every change. How long have I been in that house? Suddenly, I wish I could meet a friend for lunch but the last two years have left me little time for chicken salad and chit-chat.

I’ve lost something this last year. I’ve shrunk; I get out less and less and I’ve forgotten how bustling the world is. When I see workmen in vans, telephone installers on the side of the road, or children with their moms in SUVs, I realize that as my mother’s Alzheimer’s increases, I’m fighting a slow sadness. This is a season, I tell myself. It won’t last forever.

***

Friendships are vital. The Today Show featured a segment on best friends today, and they stated that people who enjoy close friendships are healthier and enjoy a greater sense of self-worth. It’s such a source of strength to know you can call up a good friend to vent, to ask make yourself accountable, or for a good belly laugh about something no one else would get.

3 Keys to Making New Friends While Caregiving:

  • Be friendly to your neighbors. I know that most of us barely wave at our neighbors, but why not break the norm and actually knock on their door? You need them, so you need to make the effort. Sure, the first time you do it you may get a strange look, but people warm up quickly–especially if there are warm cookies involved. (I”m not saying make them from scratch, just pick up some pre-made batter in your dairy case).
  • Join a caregiver’s support group. Who better to understand what you’re going through than a fellow caregiver! Exchange emails or phone numbers, sit next to someone and start up a conversation. Who knows? You might even be able to start your own caregiving co-op and get together with your care buddies. (Kind of like a play-date that kids have)
  • Who needs new friends? Call up an old one. Reconnect. Join Classmates.com or Facebook and look up some old high school or college buddies. It can actually be fun to reconnect, compare then and now pics, catch up and who married who—and since it’s online. It doesn’t take the effort to get dressed and leave the house but you still get the benefits of connection.

Yes, at times caregiving can get a bit lonely, but I found that my friends–old and new–really do care about me and their love and support brightens even the toughest days.