Where do I start? Anyone who has had contact with someone with Alzheimer’s disease will know about the emotional challenges that confront all those involved. The person’s behaviour can range from difficult to extremely difficult and in some cases results in them being given medication to sedate them in order that they can be safely managed.
Emotions at different stages
All too often people generalise about Alzheimer’s. I want to draw attention to the way emotions differ at different stages of the disease and this particular blog is focusing on emotions in the earlier stages. Alzheimer’s has seven stages and the first few years, stages 1 to 4, are, in many ways, the most difficult to deal with, particularly when it comes to emotions. The person’s brain is increasingly affected and they are forgetting more and more. They are slowly ‘loosing the place’. They are desperately trying to hold on to some degree of normality and independence. In their attempt to do this they try to find ways round the things they can’t do and can give a false impression that they are functioning normally when in fact they are not. This leads to frustration and despair all round.
Disasters and Denials
This happened with my mother. When the geriatric social worker made her routine calls to check how my mother was progressing, my mother would offer her a cup of tea and hold polite conversation, with the cat curled up comfortably on her lap, as if nothing was wrong. However this concealed the true situation. Out of sight of the visitor Mum was not coping and was in complete denial about her problems. She would not go to bed at night at the normal time and would sometimes fall and hurt herself. She would leave the front door wide open all night in all weathers. She kept opening tins of soup and putting the contents into the cat’s dish as the cat food came from a tin. Occasionally she turned on the gas hob and then forgot to light it putting not only to herself in danger, but also everyone in the house. And so on – list is endless.
What should we do?
People with Alzheimer’s often don’t remember what they have said or done and if we tell them they are indignant and are likely to be in denial. As they don’t know what it is, it is impossible to reason with them. Hard though it may be, there is no point in correcting or criticising them. Distracting their attention to something safe and of interest is the best way. But living with someone who is in this state would try the patience of a saint.
Change on the horizon
When things have reached the point of utter desperation, and everyone has all but given up, what they may not know is that as the person progresses to the next stage, stage 5 and beyond, it will change and become easier emotionally.
Looking forward to the next stage of our journey.
Maggie La Tourelle