Why Do People With Alzheimer’s Act So Mean?

January 22, 2010 at 6:13 pm 6 comments

I don’t know about you, but when I’m lost, scared, and am in unfamiliar surroundings, I tend to get a little mean myself. For a person with Alzheimer’s, this state of fear and agitation never really stops. Even if they remember who you are, who they are, and where they are…five minutes from now they may lose it. One of the best things we can do as caregivers is to lovingly detach from their tangled emotions and not take what they say or do personal.

 Easier said than done. 

Alzheimer’s can cause the areas of the brain that house our emotions to go haywire–so those feelings of mania, anger, and anxiety are all lit up even where there hasn’t been a trigger such as an event to cause such feelings. Understanding why our spouses or parents are “acting mean” can help us  realize that they can’t remember what we said five minutes ago, they can’t necessarily control their unpredictable and unstable  emotions, and they can’t always feel love or connection with us.  Also know that drug interactions can aggravate behavior and increase feelings of paranoia–so mention any changes to your loved one’s doctor.

I grieved when I lost my mother to Alzheimer’s. I grieved when I finally hit that wall and knew she didn’t know me, didn’t feel anything for me. It felt so cold. So lonely. And yet I had to keep on keeping on, as the saying goes. I had to do intimate things for her–change her clothes, bathe her, brush her hair–and yet to her–I was a “nobody.”

 Finally, I turned the corner. I chose to remember for the two of us. Her “mean” behavior didn’t throw me near as much. I would be our anchor. I would love when she couldn’t. I would show kindness and patience when she couldn’t.

 Yes, there are neurological explanations for Alzheimer’s behavior, but the bottom line is that we, the daughters, sons, spouses, friends, and caregivers have to dig deep–and choose to go on, to love, to act with maturity and grace–regardless.

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

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6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. whereforcare  |  January 23, 2010 at 12:15 pm

    Very true and heartfelt account of caring for someone with Alzheimers- well done!

    • 2. Steve  |  January 25, 2010 at 9:52 pm

      Thanks for commenting. I’m so glad that caregivers have an online village–we all need each other when it comes to caring for loved ones with Alzheimer’s.
      ~Carol O’Dell

  • 3. Trisha Torrey  |  January 25, 2010 at 12:35 pm


    I remember my mother’s “mean” stage as well. It was so disconcerting – my mother had always been so sweet and compassionate, and suddenly she was losing her temper, even shoving the grocery cart at my dad when they went shopping….

    So often we loved ones and caregivers don’t know what to expect from our loved ones who have Alz. This mean stage is one of those documented and expected phases. If we know ahead of time that it will probably happen at some point, then it’s easier not to take it so personally.

    So that’s the message here. If your loved one has some dementia and you suspect it may be Alzheimer’s — then know that at some point, it’s very likely you’ll experience this meanness for a period of time.

    Trisha Torrey

    • 4. Steve  |  January 25, 2010 at 9:51 pm

      Hi Trisha,
      Thanks for stopping by. And yes, information is power. Knowing what’s coming down the pike can help you not feel like you’re the only one. I’m one of those people who don’t mind when someone tells me the movie plot–and maybe I’m the same with caregiving–fill me in! I hope you’ll hop over to Caring.com–I have a new forum, “Candid Caregiving,” and I so want caregivers to share their experience–and help each other. I’ve heard of a few people who say that their loved one got sweeter with Alzheimer’s–I was quite envious:)
      Again, thanks for commenting.
      ~Carol O’Dell

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Mike Gamble, Dakim Brain Fitness. Dakim Brain Fitness said: Why do people with Alzheimer’s act so mean? http://bit.ly/5djjt6 […]

  • 6. Ashley  |  April 13, 2010 at 8:07 pm

    I am struggling with caring for my 70 yr old mother and my three very young children. My mom is in the early-mid stages of Alzheimer’s. I often wonder if her behaviour, mood, attitude is because of the disease or if it’s just ‘her’. I find myself angry and frustrated. My mother wasn’t sweet and we weren’t particularly close emotionally. She was self-centered and self-serving before she got Alzheimer’s, but liked in the community for all her ‘good works’ that the public saw. My siblings wrote her off years ago…so did her siblings. My Dad died a few years ago. I wonder how much of my life I should give up to care for her when she’s got no one else. She’s mean to my kids, my husband and me, she bad mouth’s us to people in the family and community. Suggestions?? Also, she is in complete denial of her disease and has blamed me and her doctor for changes in her life. She failed her driver’s test but blames me for taking the keys or the doctors for telling her not to drive….she thinks we’re after her money, house and assets…when all we’re trying to do is protect her, as she gets taken advantage of often.

    Any help or suggestions or similar stories would be much appreciated.


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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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