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Alzheimer's Disease -- Communication Skills and Coping with Behavior (1)

Posted Sep 13 2010 10:23am
By Bob DeMarco
Alzheimer's Reading Room

In the early days of Alzheimer's caring the caregiver deals with a disease that is difficult, sometimes impossible, to understand.

Alzheimer's disease turns the world of the Alzheimer's caregiver upside down.

Imagine a person you know all, or most, of your life and their behavior changes-- suddenly -- and for the worse.

This person, your loved one, begins to act out behaviors that you have never seen or experienced.

You are forced to try and deal with these behaviors. It is not easy.

Not easy unless you begin to put these behaviors in the proper context. Is the Alzheimer's patient being intentionally mean? Or, is the meanness caused by illness -- Alzheimer's disease.

When an Alzheimer's caregiver hears something that is mean or nasty they usually react in anger.

This is a normal behavior -- the "norm". Using these behaviors that you have developed over the course of your life help you cope. This is the way you have been coping your entire life. No one wants to be treated harshly.

The typical Alzheimer's caregiver is bombarded with mean spirited behavior over and over. Since they are made of flesh and blood they often feel angry, frustrated, and sad when it happens. There is nothing wrong with these kinds of feelings. This is the "norm".

Typically, an Alzheimer's caregivers decides to strike back in the form of an argument, or an equally harsh behavior.

Soon the caregiver learns that this only makes matters worse. The "strike back" makes the Alzheimer's patient meaner or sometimes sends them into a "shell".

It is not unusual for an Alzheimer's patient to deny they said anything mean. They don't remember saying it. Its part of the disease.

A person that has Alzheimer's diseases loses the ability to forgive, apologize, or make-up. The words, actions, and behaviors of the Alzheimer's patient are a product of the disease. These mean spirited words and behaviors are rarely if ever a product of intentional thought (as we know it).

Alzheimer's caregivers need to learn to understand that Alzheimer's behaviors are a product of the disease.

Reacting to someone that has Alzheimer's disease in the same way you react to someone without the disease will rarely work. It is more likely that if you react, you won't accomplishing anything other than making the situation worse.

In order to gain control of your emotions you need to learn new and effective ways to deal with harsh and mean spirited behaviors. The first step is to accept and understand that these new behaviors are a symptom of Alzheimer's disease.

Frankly, this is not easy to do. It is very difficult to change your own behavior. It is not easy to develop the new communication skill set that is needed to deal effectively with Alzheimer's disease.

It is necessary to decide that you do want to "cope" with these new behaviors. This has to be a conscious decision and effort.

The typical responses that caregivers have been making over the course of their life -- coping, the "norm" -- won't accomplish anything other than worsening the situation in a world filled with Alzheimer's disease.

Caregivers need to work on new coping strategies, and developing new "norms" of behavior in order to communicate effectively with a person that has Alzheimer's disease.

When Alzheimer's caregivers "fight back" they usually ends up suffering from an array of negative feelings -- guilt, blame, inadequacy, and the ultimate worst -- depression.

If you don't learn to accept the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. If you don't try and develop a new set of communications skills to cope with the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, you will most likely end up feeling miserable a large fraction of the time that you are caring.

Is it worth it? Is it worth it to continue doing the same things over and over when they are not working?

It is possible to create communication skills that will allow you to deal more effectively with someone suffering from Alzheimer's disease?

More About the Alzheimer's Reading Room

Bob DeMarco is the editor of the Alzheimer's Reading Room and an Alzheimer's caregiver. Bob has written more than 1,810 articles with more than 92,100 links on the Internet. Bob resides in Delray Beach, FL.

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Original content Bob DeMarco, the Alzheimer's Reading Room

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