Why Does Alzheimer’s Effect People Differently?

Alzheimer’s does different things to different people.

I’ve heard some people say their spouse or parent got sweeter. “Not my mother,” I say in return, laughing (and almost crying at the same time) at some of the antics my mother and I lived through. My mother had Parkinson’s and later, developed Alzheimer’s. Double whammy. Writing about our daily escapades in Mothering Mother helped me deal with the stress.

Some people with Alzheimer’s are docile, too docile. They stop talking, and pretty much stop moving.
And honestly, as hurtful and difficult as it is to have a feisty Alzheimer’s loved one, my heart breaks for the family members who are left with so little because of this disease. There’s no communication. No love–or fight left in them.

For others, Alzheimer’s turns them into a fidget machine. They pace incessantly, talk, babble, rant, need next to no sleep, and when forced to sit, their knee jiggles non-stop. Others are paranoid and will lash out at anyone who tries to touch them–it’s as if their brain–and body–is on fire.

And yes, for some, Alzheimer’s turns their loved one mean, and violent. They curse when before the disease they were  practically saints. They use vile language that would shock and embarrass a fleet of sailors, and their eyes look as if they should already be in San Quentin.

Violence is hard to understand, but for the most part, a person with any brain disorder feels threatened and that’s why they lash out. They may thrash, hit, try to bite if they feel cornered, they may scream at anyone who approaches them or cry as if they’re being tortured.

It’s exhausting, heartbreaking and embarrassing–and yet care homes are full just because of this. Families throw up their hands. They don’t know what to do.

Alzeimer’s effects each brain differently. You  have to think of it as a chemical reaction, not a persoanl decision.

The dark truth is that for many, Alzheimer’s turns into an all-out rage. It’s unpredictable and unprovoked. They slap, bite, kick, pinch, and for a few, and surprisingly, they possess the power to break bones, knock someone down, grab knives, throw a lamp, and are truly dangerous.

Their families can’t handle it. Who could? Alzheimer’s patients can go on very little sleep or food. They need 24/7 supervision–and you need to know the staff (weekend, day, and night staff) well.

It’s crucial that you, the family member stays involved. It’s too easy to lose your temper or ignore their incessant cries–and only our love and committment keeps us going. As challenging and scary as it is, visit often and demand good care.

If your loved one is starting to show signs of agression, I urge you to speak to your doctor now.

For some, an added medication that stabalizes their mood (and yes, it may make them lethargic) can curtail their violence. It doesn’t work with everyone, but if you catch it early, it just might work.

Don’t hide behind excuses. When they start gritting their teeth, knocking you away, pulling your hair, you have to get help.

Have you stopped having people over. Do you wear long sleeves to cover bruises? Are you afraid to go to sleep? You’re not alone, but don’t go it alone. Ask for help. There are people and organizations in your community that want to help you–and can help you.

I know you don’t want anyone to “see” your husband, your wife, your mom this way. You want to preserve their dignity. I felt those same feelings. I didn’t want to damage her good name. I didn’t want her to be remembered like this. But know that people are more understanding than you give them credit for–and the ones that don’t understand eventually will. Life has a way of teaching us the lessons we need to learn.

No one knows why Alzheimer’s effects people differently. Yes, it’s brain chemistry. Yes, it’s the way in which each brain deteriorates differently, but it’s also an interaction of personality, history, and family dynamics. We don’t get to choose.

The only way to get through late stage Alzheimer’s is with help. Ask for help. Call your local elder-source office. Call Alzheimer’s Association. Don’t go it alone. You don’t have to.

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Carol O'Dell

More Articles Written by Carol

Carol D. O'Dell's gripping memoir MOTHERING MOTHER, (April 1, 2007 by Kunati Publishing) is for the "sandwich" generation and overflows with humor, grace and much needed honesty. Written with wit and sensitivity, Mothering Mother offers insight on how to not only survive but thrive the challenges of caring for others while keeping your life, heart, and dreams intact. Carol is an inspirational speaker and instructor focusing on caregiving, spirituality and adoption issues. She has been featured on numerous television, radio and magazine and podcast programs including WEDU/PBS, Artist First Radio, "Coping with Caregiving" national radio, Women's Digest and Mature Matters Publications. Her fiction and nonfiction work has appeared in numerous publications including Atlanta Magazine, Southern Revival, MARGIN, and AIM, America's Intercultural Magazine Carol appeared on the radio show "Healing the Grieving Heart" with Dr. Gloria & Dr. Heidi Horsley to discuss "Mothering Mother: A Daughter's Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir." To hear Carol being interviewed on this show, click on the following link: www.voiceamericapd.com/health/010157/horsley031308.mp3

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