September is World Alzheimer’s Month, and while we know a lot about the disease, there is much more to learn about Alzheimer’s disease behavior. When a loved one is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease behavior, it can be distressing to the family and to the senior themselves. Commonly, an older person will be blamed for an outburst or a difficult mood as if they have control over those behaviors. When it comes to Alzheimer’s disease behavior, ultimately the patient’s behavior is ruled by the disease.
Verbal or physical aggression from an older loved one, or a senior in general can be disturbing. However, with an Alzheimer’s patient, it’s important to acknowledge that the disease triggers these behaviors. It is not a deliberate action on the part of the patient. If aggression does occur, identify possible triggers for the behavior such as physical discomfort or over-stimulation. Remove the patient from them to help to prevent future outbursts.
Observe the body language of a senior with Alzheimer’s disease behaviors. Hand-wringing, pacing, and rocking are typical symptoms. The disease can make it extremely difficult to process the surrounding environment and/or new information of any kind. These stressors will commonly manifest themselves in the form of general restlessness. Identify the cause of the stress and reduce it as much as possible. Divert the senior’s attention by taking a short walk, singing, or putting on soft music to redirect their attention and help to calm them.
Another disturbing attribute of Alzheimer’s disease behavior is the tendency to accuse loved ones of wrongdoing. The disease can cause the Alzheimer’s patient to have false beliefs that lead to paranoia and delusions. A simple distraction such as soft music, singing, or reading to the patient is all it takes to bring him or her back to the present. However, if the behavior is particularly alarming, it is always best to consult with a physician.
While it’s important to address the signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease behaviors and to know which changes are attributable to the disease, it is equally important not to downplay patients’ feelings. They are still human beings with feelings. If they are repeating a story, and have done so many times, don’t argue or cut them off. Just smile, nod, and agree with them. Try to enjoy the story as if it’s the first time you have heard it. Remember there will come a day when they may not be able to speak, and you won’t be able to hear them telling the story. If patients seem irrational and impatient, understand that they feel lost. They’re losing control over their life as well as their independence.
Observation is the key to victory here. Is a loved one more stressed out when those around them are stressed too? Are outbursts common at a certain time of day? Create a structured schedule, and keep the senior’s life stable. Above all, offer support and offer love.