Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Why Do Alzheimer's Patients Lash Out at Family?

One of the hardest things for families, from what I have heard, is how the Alzheimer's person treats their closest relatives. I don't know how many times I have heard a story about hateful a parent is to their child or spouse. Remember that. I have heard that story SO MANY TIMES. It isn't because it is you. It's how the disease works. It's just another reason I think Alzheimer's is the worst disease out there.

I see Mark's frustration with his mom's anger. And I think he's shocked by it when it happens and a little hurt, especially because my interactions are completely opposite. Pat thanks me, loves me, and trusts me. On occassion, she will get upset with me but it's out of frustration more than anything else.

I don't have the answers to why Alzheimer's patients sometimes act worse around family members than caregivers. But I do have my opinions about it.

I think with Mark a lot of times he forgets that she is sick. He insists on correcting her, reminding her, and teaching her. I just play along with her. Sometimes I correct her but if she starts to get irritated, I just say, "oh, okay Pat." A lot of times what she says doesn't make much sense and I just get tired of repeating myself. I don't think keeping her oriented is as important as keeping her happy.

I don't believe he corrects her so much because he is being mean. He corrects her because it is a natural reaction to correct someone who is doing something wrong or has forgotten something. And he may do it because, well, it's his mom. And he knows what a smart person she has always been. Maybe deep down correcting her is a try at "fixing" her disease.

I think it is easier for an outsider to care for someone with Alzheimer's because they have no expectations. I met Pat  in the very early stages of Alzheimer's, before anyone knew she had it. I had nothing to compare her behavior to. I have always known her as a frightened, worried woman and I have always reached out to her in a caregiver sort of role. I can't imagine what it is like to watch a strong woman like Pat slip away. It would be hard not to react.

Her reactions to Mark are compiled with stress, confusion, frustration, and a feeling of loss. She is his mom and now he is telling her what to do. That's hard to take when the roles reverse. She doesn't know she is driving us crazy with repetition, worry, and deceitful behavior. And while she remembers sometimes that she lives with us, I'm sure she isn't thinking it is so we can keep an eye on her. She looks at us like we are stealing her independence. 77 years old and everybody is telling her what to do. You would lash out too.

As I said before, these are my opinions and not medically explored. I live this situation every day.


  1. Hello again Christina,

    I must admit that I visit your site daily to see if you have posted.

    You are obviously a good person and have tremendous insight - although I realise that this will not make you task any easier.

    Personal involvement is a totally different thing and I can understand Mark's frustration. My mum was a wonderful, good and naive individual who became a screeching, aggressive and mocking person who I did not recognise.

    During the late nineties, I had a hysterectomy, so could not visit my mum daily, do her shopping or give her a shower. So, at this time, she was admitted to residential care. She had no insight into her conditions, so was extremely angry. I dreaded visiting her.

    My brother, who had previously visited her for a holiday from Holland - where he lived at the time - was so relieved as he had become trapped and had begun to hate her. I think it is perhaps different for a son when he has to provide 'intimate' care for his mother.

    As her illness progressed, she was moved from residential to nursing care - to the home where I work, at my request. However, across time, I ceased to love my mother as she was no longer my mother. I did love the other residents as, as you say, I had not known them before. But I did not love my mother, for this stranger had taken over her body. Oddly enough, when I went into work sometimes, I did not even recognise her physically.

    With my husband, I still love him. But I miss him as my best friend. I miss his conversation. I miss his humour. I miss his intelligence. Our sons have inherited - and hopefully mine! his intelligence - and my eldest son who is also called Mark, was angry initially and felt that his dad had some sort of control over what was happening to him and couldn't deal with it.

    However, Michael's - my husband - disease progression has been very slow. I do not know why this is, although I think it is because I insisted that there be no psychiatric intervention as due to his physical medical history and his knowledge of my mums decline, he stated that he did not want to know the result of his MRI scan. So he never has. He does not wake up every morning and think, what have I forgotten now.

    With regards to reality orientation - you are so right! Apart from time, day and person, I think it is very cruel. I do not practice it. I do not inform the lovely man in our home that his wife has died, for continually reminding him and the resulting ensuing grief is dispicable.

    If you ever want to write to me, I would be happy in providing you with my email address.

    Kind regards,

    Mags. xxx

  2. Mags,
    As always I love hearing from you as your insight is deep felt. You help reinforce what I already think I know and give me new angles in which to think about my current situation. I'm glad we have connected with one another.

    I would love to keep in touch via email. Instead of putting it here, go to my website and hit the contact button.