For 11 years, I pleaded with my difficult elderly father to allow a caregiver help him with my ailing mother, but he always insisted on taking care of her himself. Every caregiver I hired soon sighed in exasperation, “Jacqueline, I can’t work with your father – his temper is impossible to handle. I don’t think he’ll accept help until he’s on his knees himself.”
When his inability to care for her nearly resulted in my mother’s death, I had to step in despite his loud protests. It became heartbreaking. One minute he’d be my loving father, and then the next, some trivial little thing would set him off and he’d call me nasty names and throw me out of the house. I took him to several doctors, only to be flabbergasted that he could act completely normal and sane when he needed to.
Finally, I stumbled upon a neurologist who specialized in dementia. My parents underwent a battery of blood, neurological, memory tests and P.E.T. scans. After ruling out numerous reversible forms of dementia, such as a B-12 and thyroid deficiency, and evaluating prescribed medications, I was stunned at the diagnosis of stage one Alzheimer’s disease in both of my parents – something all their other doctors had missed entirely.
What I’d been coping with in my parents was the beginning of Alzheimer’s, which starts very intermittently and appears to come and go. I didn’t understand that my father was addicted and trapped in his own bad behavior of a lifetime of screaming and yelling to get his way, which was coming out in spurts of irrationality. I also didn’t understand that demented does not mean dumb (a concept that is not widely appreciated), and that he was still socially adjusted never to show his “Hyde” side to anyone outside the family. Conversely, my mother was as sweet and lovely as she’d always been.
Alzheimer’s makes up 60 to 80 percent of all dementias. There’s no stopping the progression, nor is there yet a cure. However, if identified early, there are four medications (Aricept, Exelon, Razadyne and Namenda) that in many people, can mask the symptoms and keep a person in the early independent stage longer.
Once my parents were properly treated for Alzheimer’s as well as the often-present depression in dementia patients, and then my father’s aggression, I was better able to manage the numerous challenging behaviors. Instead of logic and reason, I learned to use distraction and redirection. I also capitalized on their long-term memories and, instead of arguing facts, I lived in their realities of the moment. I learned to just “go with the flow” and let unpleasant comments roll off. And most importantly, I was finally able to get my father to accept two wonderful caregivers. With the tremendous benefit of adult day health care five days a week for them and a support group for me, everything started to fall into place.
Alzheimer’s disease afflicts more than 5.4 million Americans, but millions go undiagnosed for many years because early warning signs are chalked up to stress and “normal” aging. Since one out of eight people by age 65, and nearly half by age 85 are afflicted with Alzheimer’s, healthcare professionals of every specialty should know the 10 warning signs and help educate families so everyone can save time, money, and a fortune in Kleenex!
TEN WARNING SIGNS OF ALZHEIMER’S
(Reprinted with permission of the Alzheimer’s Association)
1. Memory loss
2. Difficulty performing familiar tasks
3. Problems with language
4. Disorientation of time and place
5. Poor or decreased judgment
6. Problems with abstract thinking
7. Misplacing things
8. Changes in mood or behavior
9. Changes in personality
10. Loss of initiative