Either way, it’s a challenge.
Some folks seem to lose the “filter” that guides socially acceptable practices. Other folks seem to morph into someone completely unfamiliar. Personality changes are very common in early stage dementia, and are usually caused by a combination of factors including the disease process, pre-existing personality traits, anxiety/fear/anger, and stress. Knowing the triggers, avoiding the confrontation, and reminding the person of socially acceptable standards are your best defenses.
Aunt Betty has always been a warm hearted person. She tended to be a bit of an eye-roller, but usually in a silly, dramatic fashion that was completely void of malice. She had a tendency to be a little sarcastic and witty, but never mean. As Aunt Betty aged, however, her zingers had more sting. She stopped trying to be funny, and responded to nearly every question with an exasperated “that’s the stupidest question I’ve ever heard.” She alienated her friends and family. She felt more alone and isolated, which made her even less approachable. Although diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, Aunt Betty’s family felt that her behavior was a conscious choice. She had just always been that way.
Aunt Doris was a different story. Aunt Doris was the sweetest, kindest woman you could ever meet. She was friendly and sincere to anyone and everyone. She remembered birthdays and anniversaries. She loved her church and was always helping her neighbors. Aunt Doris developed Alzheimer’s disease. Conversations with her would start out pleasantly, but could suddenly turn nasty and hateful. Aunt Doris could smile sweetly at you while swearing at you under her breath. She became paranoid and confrontational. Alzheimer’s disease was clearly to blame- she had never been this way.
One of the most painful aspects of Alzheimer’s disease is watching a loved one change. A person you have known for many, many years slowly disappears, and the person who remains is a stranger at times. It is important to remember that whatever changes impact the person you knew, the disease is to blame. It manifests itself differently in everyone. Here are some tips:
1. Remind the person of socially acceptable behaviors in an objective voice. Connecting your hurt feelings to an event may lead to further conflict- and there is little chance that you will feel the validation you’re seeking.
2. Redirect, redirect, redirect- don’t have those “trigger” conversations. Avoid confrontation.
3. Don’t try to convince the person he/she is wrong. Early Alzheimer’s decreases the ability to be insightful and introspective. Your point will fall flat. You can be right, or you can be happy (thanks Dr. Phil).