It is known that there are dramatic and even unexpected changes in behavior in an Alzheimer’s patient. Often there can seem like there is no logical reason for the way they behave. We know that the disease destroys the workings of the brain, but does that account for all the behavior changes?
How can senior care service workers be assured that they are responding appropriately to the needs of their elder if these behaviors are difficult to define? It’s true that we cannot always know why people do what they do or say what they say. A disease of the brain such as Alzheimer’s and also some of the dementia conditions makes it even trickier.
Some examples of unexplainable behavior
- Lucy (who has the disease) explodes in anger when her husband asks her repeatedly if she wants to go walking with him. Walking together is something they have always done.
- Arnold (who has the disease) insists that his wife is having an affair. She is not having one and shows no signs of having one, but still he insists.
- Josephine repeatedly pulls the towels and sheets out of the closet. Her caregiver continues to replace them but still she pulls them out.
The caregiver or spouse may feel that the person is being mean on purpose, or trying to get them back for something, or just being plain annoying. But caregivers must look beyond what they think is a rational reason for the behavior. What are the intentions of the behavior? Perhaps the Alzheimer’s sufferer is not responsible for their actions, for their behavior in the same way that we are.
People have a natural tendency to assume that when something hurts us or makes us angry, the other person must have done it on purpose. But when an elderly person’s brain loses cognitive function, reasoning ability, memory and other brain functions, thoughts and therefore behaviors are bound to change.
It is in knowing this that caregivers will be better able to cope with the strange behaviors of the elders with Alzheimer’s disease that they care for. You may not always be able to pinpoint the cause of the strange behavior and eradicate it. But realizing that the disease causes loopholes in rational thinking and behaving (and that the behavior is not done on purpose to be aggravating) can lower the stress of the caregiver.
- The elder may not be able to find the words for what they are feeling. In the examples above, perhaps Lucy is afraid of the dark and he asks her in the evening. Sometimes it’s a guessing game to figure it out. Most of the time you won’t be able to figure it out. Change something about the question, or change the location, or time, or something.
- In Arnold’s case, perhaps he has seen a man come to the door (the mailman) and his wife stopped and chatted with him. Arnold can’t remember that he is the mailman and thinks his wife is receiving male visitors. He realizes his wife leaves for a while every afternoon and his daughter comes to visit. (His wife goes shopping.) His brain pieces these two little bits of information together and concludes she is having an affair.
- Josephine might be acting out something she remembers from her childhood. She has more memories from childhood than from current time. She used to play hide and seek in the towel closet. She doesn’t have the words to tell her caregiver so she pulls out the towels to play. It makes her angry when the caregiver replaces them. The caregiver in this case never figures out the source of the behavior.
For more information on the VA Aid and Attendance Pension Benefit that helps senior veterans pay for in-home care services, or if you have a general question about VA Home Care, please don’t hesitate to call Veterans Home Care at 888-314-6075