Dad cuts his daily blood pressure tablets in half to save money. Some days, Mom forgets to take her prescription drugs. The wrong medications. The wrong dosage. The wrong timing. Skipped medications or taking too much or too little can cause medical complications, reduced quality of life, or even death. Unfortunately, for s
As I was visiting with a new client to initiate services for her in her home, she told me the same story over and over and over again! Her son told me he couldn’t listen to it any longer, about how she had been given a gift and how her peers were jealous of her. He could repeat every detail of the story because he’d heard it so many times before. I explained to him that because of her dementia, Alzheimer’s type, it was normal for her to repeat herself that way because she couldn’t remember that she had just said it. That’s what happens when people have short-term memory loss. They don’t remember what they just said or did or what you just said or did. And so it goes.
It can be very difficult for adult children taking care of elderly parents with dementia to deal with the repetition even when they know its origins. When loved ones can’t understand the disease and aren’t willing to learn about it, or when they don’t want to accept that their loved one has it, the repetition is even more difficult to deal with because family members keep expecting the person with memory loss to know better. So they respond by saying things like, “You just told me that. I heard you the first time.” Or, “Here we go again,” they say, while rolling their eyes and making the person with dementia feel small.
Scolding or correcting does not change anything. In fact, it makes matters worse. Over time, caregivers become stressed and say things they later regret. They end up arguing with the person with the disease, an argument they can never ever win. Again, it changes nothing. You cannot be logical with someone who has no short-term memory. Furthermore, Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive disease. It will not and does not get better. And even though we don’t know how long it will take to progress in each individual case, we do know that it will progress. This we cannot change. God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
….And the courage to change the things I can. What we can change is our attitude and behavior toward the person with the disease. We can learn to set up our homes so they are safer for someone living with memory loss. We can learn about the disease so we can have the appropriate responses towards the person when we are challenged by some of their behaviors. We can learn to take care of ourselves so that we can better cope with our role as caregiver.
Just the other day, I was taken aback when one of my newer clients living with dementia kept repeating, “I am so grateful for your help. I am so grateful for your help”. This person is blessed to have a family caregiver who understands the disease affecting her loved one, who treats her with dignity and respect, and who understands the feelings underneath the words that come out of her mouth. This client feels love around her, in both words and deeds. I believe that is why she is able to repeat positive feelings. I have no scientific evidence to prove it, but I do know from experience that when a caregiver is able to reach beyond the words that a person with Alzheimer’s utters and respond to that person’s underlying feelings, the person feels understood and negative behaviors are apt to be less.
Julie Ellingson, LSW
January 23, 2015
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