Words can hurt and when they come from the person we love the most, they hurt even more. If you’re caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease you may find that your loved one has “lost their filter”.
They may begin to say awful things to you or use words they’ve never used before. They may say that you aren’t their spouse, they hate you, or that they wish you were dead. This is heartbreaking to those that so lovingly care for the person with Alzheimer’s disease.
So how do you cope? It’s not easy. The first thing I recommend is that you try to understand why your loved one is behaving this way.
Alzheimer’s is a disease that causes regions of the brain to shrink and lose their function. As the disease progresses, different areas of the brain are affected. It often starts near the hippocampus, which plays a major role in forming our memories, as well as storing and processing spatial information that helps us navigate.
This is why during early stages of the disease a person may end up at a neighbor’s house and not know why or how she got there. The disease also affects parts of the brain that help form and express personality, behavior and language. Before long, a loved one’s impulse control is severely damaged. All of those learned behaviors of being polite, not swearing, lashing out or undressing in public are essentially erased, which means your mom could say hurtful things but doesn’t really mean them. That’s the biological answer.
On the personal side, your loved one is slowly losing his or her sense of “self” rather than unveiling some unruly person “kept under control” all of these years. One of the hardest things for some family members to understand is that those suffering from dementia are not deliberately being difficult.
But because people with dementia can sometimes appear to be perfectly normal, it may be hard to tell the difference between when he or she is being themselves and when and when his or her behavior is caused by dementia.
Ask your loved ones physician to speak with you about the disease and its stages. It would be very helpful if the doctor showed you actual brain scans showing the physical changes caused by Alzheimer’s. You can view PET scans and take a fascinating tour of the brain and how Alzheimer’s disease affects it by going to the National Alzheimer’s Association website at and clicking on “Brain Tour.”
It’s also helpful to understand the best ways to react to these changes. Staying calm, reacting with a soothing and reassuring voice and learning how to distract an agitated loved one are some of the best ways for you to react.
Lastly, both you and your loved one should join a local Alzheimer’s caregiver support group, so you can learn from experts and other family members how to interpret and respond to your loved ones behaviors. You can find a list of all of our support groups here. And remember, you can call us anytime at 561-588-4545.