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Don’t let the middle-stage Alzheimer’s or Dementia sufferer con you

Posted Aug 04 2010 10:33pm
  • When asked if she had trouble driving, Mom would say, “Oh no. I’m a great driver.” We later learned that an employee of Safeway had taken her home numerous times because she couldn’t find her car in the parking lot when she finished her shopping.
  • When we asked if she was all right living alone, Mom assured us that she was fine and loved living alone. Later we learned that she was heating the house through the winter with the kitchen oven, that she was sponge bathing because she no longer knew how to adjust the water for a shower, that she ate cookies 3 times a day because she didn’t remember how to cook or operate her microwave.

And the list goes on and on–.

Once, Mom called me to complain that she hadn’t seen my brother in more than a year. I was furious until I spoke to my brother, and he explained that she had told him the same thing about me.  We had both been to her home twice during the previous week, but on different days.

Mom was not lying; not when she said she hadn’t seen my brother, nor when she said she hadn’t seen me. We had both been to her home, but she didn’t remember our visits. If I reminded Mom, or urged her by saying, “Mom, remember, he brought you flowers.”

She would promptly correct herself and say, “Oh yea, I do remember that.”

But in reality, she didn’t remember it at all. Once I was aware of this little ploy, I was shocked how often Mom agreed with me and covered by saying, “Oh yea, I remember that.”

This can be very detrimental to the caregiver if they rely on the patient to answer questions about eating, or bathing, or taking medication. It must be assumed that middle stage Alzheimer’s and Dementia sufferers may not tell the truth, simply because they aren’t sure what the truth is. They can’t remember if they’ve had lunch, or taken their pills, or had a shower this day. They may tell you they remember because they want to please you–but they don’t remember. By the time Mom was in middle stage Alzheimer’s her short term memory lasted only seconds. She could tell you something, then repeat it again in 3 minutes, as though telling it for the first time.

It’s also important that family members don’t believe every accusation the Alzheimer’s or Dementia sufferer tells them. It’s wise to investigate, to be sure, but the patient often resents the caregiver for denying them access to their car, or pills, or a power mower, or hand guns. The patient simply doesn’t know what is and what is NOT best for him/her by this stage. And sometimes they resort to wild accusations that simply aren’t true. By middle stage Alzheimer’s hallucinations can be a common occurrence.

Remember– no one sees the haunting and disturbing behavior day in and day out like the caregiver. They hear repeated and constant stumbling over every word and suffer an oppressive amount of repetition in a single day’s time. They must  repeat each instruction over and over, day after day, to a patient who never remembers.

And yet, the Alzheimer’s and Dementia patient is captive of their disease. There is nothing vindictive about their behavior. They can’t help what they say or even how they behave. That must always be remembered. Their mind is confused and there is no explaining to them now.

The Alzheimer’s and Dementia sufferer does not need the truth,
only comfort and love.


For more understanding of this disease, you might want to read an exceptional book.  I’ve probably read this book a hundred times from shortly after Mom’s diagnosis until today. My Mom passed away 3 years ago and seldom does a day pass that I don’t have a recollection of her and some funny or odd behavior that occurred long before the diagnosis. Then I’m searching through the pages once again; finding what caused the behavior, what stage she was in, and trying to learn what she might have been thinking.

If you try it, I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.


With grace and precision, Shenk , a journalist and occasional NPR commentator, presents a lyric biography of Alzheimer’s, “a condition specific to humans and as old as humanity.” At one time, doctors thought senility, or dementia, was an inevitable fact of growing older. Now they know that Alzheimer’s is a specific, formidable disease that threatens to reach epidemic proportions within the next 50 years. The disease is named for the neurologist who, in 1906, first noticed, in the brain of an autopsied patient, the telltale plaques and tangles that strangle the brain’s neurons. Shenk presents a thoughtful and complex rumination on many aspects of Alzheimer’s, including anecdotes about the memory loss experienced by Ronald Reagan, Ralph Waldo Emerson and E.B. White. He recounts the tales of caregivers, many of whom become clinically depressed and who, along with physicians, draw an analogy between the developing skills of a child and the decrease in cognitive ability that besets Alzheimer’s patients. The author delves deeply into scientific research and explains that though there is as yet no cure, a recently developed vaccine holds great promise for the future. However, he warns, scientific inquiry could be impeded by fierce competition for research dollars. Doctors can now recognize an early stage of “probable Alzheimer’s,” which means that patients who are slowly sinking into its depths can understand their condition and its destructive path. Shenk movingly recounts a conversation he had with one such patient, who shares interesting ideas for rehabilitative conditioning to slow down his mental deterioration.

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