Abuse of any kind is difficult to deal with, even if the abuser has Alzheimer’s disease and you know he can’t control it.
First of all, you have to work at not taking it personally. If this is an extension of his previous personality, you know it’s just the way he is. If this is a personality change, it will be a shock. You will have to mourn the fact that he has changed dramatically, and get to the point of acceptance.
Give the primary caregiver a break – whether that’s you or someone else. Maybe it means hiring someone to come in, taking your loved one to an adult day center, or having family members take turns, the primary caregiver needs a break. Chances are he will act differently with non-family members. If he does verbally abuse staff you have brought in or at the adult day center, it becomes a bigger problem. At that point, you may want to get your loved one’s doctor involved. Let the doctor know what is going on and see if he has any suggestions. He may want to try something for anxiety or depression. Many times individuals with Alzheimer’s are acting out because of an underlying problem such as anxiety, depression, or even physical pain.
Another way to deal with this situation is with humor. You can’t control how he is acting, so you have to control how you respond. At one adult day care center, when patients would say harsh things or become verbally abusive, the staff refers to it as “terms of endearment.”
Validating your loved one’s feelings may help decrease his frustration. Many times individuals with Alzheimer’s are so frustrated that they act out through this type of behavior. He has lost much of his independence and now he has both of you telling him what to do. Be sure when you are trying to get him to do something or avoid something, that you ask in a non-threatening way. If he resists, stop and go back later. Give him time to calm down, and then try again. Also try not to talk down to him. He is still an adult with a life history of success and independence. He will sense it if he is being treated differently.
Finally, join a support group. Many times others in the group will have experienced the same behavior with their loved ones. Group members may be able to counsel you on how they coped or dealt with it. Journal your feelings and frustrations about his behavior. Dealing with your feelings will help you deal with his behavior more effectively.
Thank you to Jackie Bedard, Carolina Estate Planning in Raleigh, NC for this article.