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Published on: January 29, 2012
by Dementia and Alzheimer’s
Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s is not an easy job. When that role involves a person you love, the task can become even more difficult. Aggression, temper tantrums, and accusations by the one with dementia are among those behaviors most hurtful to family caregivers.
While a paid caregiver might find these difficult to tolerate at times, they do not feel the pain of being mistreated by one you’ve loved. As the disease progresses, the personality of the one you’ve known and loved may change drastically. The meek, gentle grandfather may deteriorate into an angry, gruff character that frightens the grandchildren. The fun-loving and playful aunt may become withdrawn. Two Alzheimer’s-related factors that contribute to these changes are paranoia and hallucinations. As an Alzheimer’s caregiver, you might witness one or both of these symptoms.
Paranoia is a common symptom of Alzheimer’s disease. When our loved one was in the earliest stages of the disease she became extremely suspicious of another family member. She had many reasons to be suspicious, so no one paid much attention to her accusations at first. The fact that she suspected inappropriate behavior from this other person was not the unusual part of the story. That had been a part of her daily life for many years. However, she kept her suspicions to herself or a few others in the family to whom she was the closest. She never wanted anyone else to know about the most private parts of her life.
Suddenly, everything changed. She no longer tried to keep her feelings a secret. Her suspicions spilled out to everyone she encountered. She could think of little else except how she was being wronged by the other person. Her life became consumed with her hatred for him. Why such a change in her behavior? Were her suspicions justified? While there may have been some truth in her accusations, much of her beliefs were the result of paranoia. Fortunately, with time and the correct medication she eventually forgot most of those things that tormented her so during that period of time. We now realize experiences such as this can be typical of Alzheimer’s disease.
My aunt lived for three years with a delightful, little lady who she dearly loved. They were wonderful friends in the assisted living community. The roommate, Esther, had lost her husband just prior to them becoming roommates and she requested to move into the room with my aunt. One day Esther started having hallucinations. Afterward, she was convinced my aunt was flirting with her husband. Nothing anyone said could convince her otherwise. She grew more paranoid and agitated toward my aunt each day and eventually tried to harm her physically. Esther was moved into a different room and seated at a different table in their dining room to avoid conflicts. Readjusting her medications helped Esther eventually return to her former self, though she was never again able to share a room with anyone.
Alzheimer’s caregivers should realize that paranoia and hallucinations can change the behavior of the one you love. There is nothing fun or easy about this, but it is a part of the disease. Every caregiver has days when they want to run as fast and far as possible from the one with Alzheimer’s. That may sound terrible to say, but it is true. Care giving requires an enormous amount of patience, time, and love. Remember the Alzheimer’s sufferer may no longer be making conscious choices. Also consider that paranoia or hallucinations might be present on some of those most difficult days.
Having traveled the road herself, Lisa W. Smith is an expert at helping Alzheimer’s caregivers cope with the emotional, financial, and legal stress of caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s. She has created an electrifying report, “An Alzheimer’s Horror Story: Killing Her Slowly!” which highlights part of this journey.
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