Incessant Questions: Manage Challenging Alzheimer’s Behavior

December 10, 2009 at 9:37 pm Leave a comment

“Can I go home? Will you take me home? This isn’t my home–will you call me a taxi? Where do we live?”

My mom asked me these questions all day long. She had Alzheimer’s and this is typical behavior for a person with a neurological disease. Sometimes I’d answer, feeling my frustration rise to the point to where I was gritting my teeth and on the verge of laughing–or crying–or both. As my mom’s full-time caregiver there were many days when there wasn’t anyone else around. Sometimes I’d ignore her–but that certainly didn’t curtail her incessant questions. Some days it felt as if my head were going to split in two.

No matter what I said, how I handled it, I couldn’t get through.

I knew that Alzheimer’s made her feel lost. Her thoughts were like water draining through a sieve. She couldn’t hold an answer anymore than I can hold water with open fingers. I felt for her, tried to comfort and console her, but how do you get through? How do you offer a sense of peace and closure to someone who can’t hold on to a single thought?

At first, my heart was breaking. I was angry–at the disease, at what it had done to my mother, to my life–and hers. But what good does it do to be angry at a disease? Finally, and it took some time, I found the resolve I needed.

It was okay that she couldn’t remember. I could remember for the both of us. I remembered we were mother and daughter. I remembered for the two of us that I was adopted and the love and home she and Daddy extended to me. I could remember she ate breakfast. I could remember her stories, her songs, her recipes. And with this paradigm shift came peace.

I learned that it’s best to distract and replace. These are two terms professionals in the caregiving and Alzheimer’s field use.

Distract: When your loved one starts asking a million questions, turn on some music, turn on a favorite old tv show, ask them about their mom (they tend to have their long-term memories in tact) or about their wedding day, get them to help fold clothes or get something tactile like coins they can help sort. Keep them busy and focused on something else. Sometimes this works, sometiems it doesn’t–but you learn what works for them–what tactics they respond to.  

Replace: If your care receiver is doing something you’d rather not–handling breakable, touching themselves in public, picking their nose etc., then have a few things on hand that they like–to replace the dangerous or inappropriate activity quickly. Some women respond to holding a doll. Some people like the tactile sensation of playing with two strips of Velcro or touching a lap blanket made of velvet, or knobby material that also has buttons. For others, they’ll respond to singing a favorite song–if you start singing it. Quickly replace the object or behavior not bringing attention to your actions, but distracting them while you divert their attention and then help them to focus on something else.

It takes practice, but it can make such a big difference. For my mom, I found that she responded to my playing the piano. I had moved her piano from her house to mine when she moved in, and when I sat down to play, it made her want to sit down to play. She’d sit beside me and place her hands on the keys–and even though she couldn’t remember that she had breakfast or what my name was, she could still play Amazing Grace.

I also kept a small book of photos of her mother, her sister, and my dad from years ago. She recognized them and liked flipping through the album. Over time, I found lots of ways to keep her entertained. It took some ingenuity but I liked knowing I could alleviate her agitation.

Who knew? Caregiving takes a fair amount of creativity.

Entry filed under: brain fitness, caring for parents, elder care, family caregiving. Tags: , .

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This Blog

Hi, I'm Carol O'Dell. This blog will include stories and lessons I've learned while caring for my mom, and now as I speak to caregivers around the country. I hope to offer suggestions, ideas and insights that will help others.

While this blog is supported by Dakim Brain Fitness, I’m not blogging to promote the Dakim company or products. Instead, I’m writing about how caring and being cared for affects your life and your family. My hope is that this blog gives you a place to learn, reflect, gain new perspective to make it another day.

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