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Keeping Up With The Ever-Changing Face Of Alzheimer’s

In honor of Alzheimer’€s Disease and Dementia Staff Education Week, we pause for a moment to foster sensitivity and respect for dementia patients and the staff members who care for them as part of end of life care. It takes a special kind of person to work with Alzheimer’s sufferers in Santa Clara and elsewhere, and for that tireless effort, we thank you. The face of Alzheimer’s is ever-changing, meaning there are several stages of this disease and each one is very different.

Alzheimer’s disease causes brain cells to perish, so the brain starts to work less well over time, says the National Institute on Aging, which changes how a person acts, feels, thinks and reacts.

Common Changes in Personality and Behavior

As a caregiver, close friend, or family member, you may see the following common personality and behavior changes. Your senior loved one may:

  • Get upset, angry or worried more easily.
  • Act depressed or become disinterested in things that used to bring them joy.
  • Hide things or believe that others are hiding things.
  • Imagine things or people that aren’t there.
  • Wander away from home.
  • Pace constantly.
  • Show unusual sexual behavior.
  • Hit you or other people.
  • Misunderstand what he or she is seeing or hearing.
  • Stop caring about what they look like, and prefer to wear the same clothes every day.

The most common types of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia with Lewy bodies, are all progressive diseases, which means the structure and chemistry of the brain get increasingly damaged over time, says the Alzheimer’s Society. The person’s ability to understand, remember, communicate and reason will gradually decline. And as dementia gets worse, the person requires more and more support with daily living, with expected changes in behavior and mood also occurring.

Factors That Affect Behavior

As your loved one moves through the stages of dementia, changes are happening in their brain that affects how they behave. They may have:

  • Feelings such as sadness, stress, fear, confusion or anxiety
  • Health-related problems, including chronic pain, illness, lack of sleep and new medications.
  • Other physical issues such as constipation, infections, hunger, thirst, or problems with hearing or sight.
  • Sensitivity to too much noise, such as a large gathering of people, radio, TV, etc.
  • Trouble stepping from one type of flooring to another because they think they have to step up or down.

Sometimes you just don’t know what is causing the anger, frustration, sadness or pain, in which case it may be caused by a physical or medical issue. Speak to their care team to ensure they are getting the right medical attention to rule anything out.

Tips for Coping With Change as the Caregiver

No one can prevent or stop Alzheimer’s-related changes in personality and behavior, but there are ways you as the family caregiver can cope with them. Check out these tips:

  • Keep things simple by asking or saying one thing at a time.
  • Keep up a daily routine, which is very comforting to the dementia patient.
  • Reassure your loved one they are safe and that you are there to help them.
  • Focus on their feelings rather than their words, i.e., you could say something like “You seem worried or anxious today.”
  • Refrain from arguing with the person or trying to reason with them.
  • Keep your frustration or anger to yourself. If you do find yourself getting upset, take some deep breaths and count to 10. If it is safe to do so, step out of the room for a few moments.
  • Use humor and laughter whenever you can to lighten the mood.
  • Give your loved one plenty of room to safely pace. Make sure they are wearing sturdy, comfortable shoes, remove any obstacles in their way such as furniture, and use slip-resistant mats so they don’t trip.
  • Distract your loved one with music, singing, or dancing.
  • Ask them for help, i.e., you could say something like “Let’s set the table for dinner together” or “I could use some help folding the clothes.”
  • Shift the focus to another activity if they seem to be getting agitated, as the immediate situation could have unintentionally triggered the aggressive response, says the Alzheimer’s Association.
  • Make sure you have ruled out pain as a cause of their agitated behavior, as pain triggers aggression in people with dementia.

If you notice serious changes that endanger your loved one or others, such as depression, hallucinations, biting or hitting, talk with their doctor and hospice care team. Some behavioral symptoms can be managed with medication. Coming up with a plan can help address any issues that may crop up.

Contact Pathways Home Health and Hospice

We have a dedicated care team that works with Alzheimer’s and dementia patients on a daily basis. To learn more about our end of life care in Santa Clara and elsewhere, contact us at 888-978-1306.