Coping with Behavioral Changes in Alzheimer’s Patients
Most of us associate Alzheimer’s disease with the well-known and tragic symptoms of forgetfulness, mental confusion and memory loss. Certainly, early signs of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia can include memory impairment, confusion, social withdrawal, disorientation and difficulty with words and communicating.
Alzheimer’s disease causes brain cells to die which results in impaired memory and cognitive functioning. This loss of brain functioning can also lead to behavioral changes. If your loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, or is displaying warning signs, symptoms may include changes in personality and behavior.
Some Alzheimer’s patients can become agitated – not sleeping, pacing and worrying constantly – aggressive– angering easily and physically or verbally acting out – or paranoid – imagining things that are not there or accusing others of hiding things from them. Behavior changes may also manifest as loss of interest in things, including self-care, bathing or grooming.
Sometimes, these behaviors are influenced by external factors, and may come and go as circumstances change. For example, certain behavioral symptoms may be the result of medications, stress caused by a change in routine, diminishing eyesight or hearing or experiencing pain. As a caretaker, it is important to try to identify any external provocations that could potentially be eased for the patient.
Some possible external causes can include lack of sleep, improper nutrition, too much stimulation from noises or excess caffeine, pain or discomfort from ill-fitting dentures, too many unfamiliar routines or new medications.
While it can be frustrating to try to understand and cope with seemingly sudden personality changes, it is important to seek to identify whether there is an underlying cause that can be addressed. For example, an apparently inexplicable display of paranoia may have legitimately sprung from an experience of someone trying to take advantage of the patient which, sadly, can happen. Or, sudden wandering behavior may be the only way the patient feels able to communicate a desire to go someplace specific.
With some patience, keen observation and the support of doctors and support groups, you can better cope with personality changes in your loved one while also providing the help and reassurance the patient needs.
For more about the challenges and coping strategies of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease, The National Institute on Aging provides a comprehensive downloadable guidebook as well as an informative website on the subject.