Why Do People with Alzheimer’s Mumble, Babble or Moan?
“I visit my grandfather in a care home every other week, but now that he’s been transferred to the memory disorder unit, I hesitate about bringing my kids. Other patients there mumble, babble or moan, and I feel it would upset my children (ages 8, 10, 14). My grandfather doesn’t do this, but maybe he’ll start. Does everyone with Alzheimer’s eventually do this?”
A woman in her early 40’s asked me this question at a care talk recently. Since this type of Alzheimer’s behavior tends to occur in the later stages, many home family members don’t experience this at home in the beginning to middle stages of Alzheimer’s and don’t know to expect it.
I talked to my friends at the Alzheimer’s Association and here’s an easy description of what’s going on:
There are 5 stages of Alzheimer’s/dementia–stage 1 being most severe. Babbling, mumbling, and moaning usually occur in stage 2 or 1 as the brain deteriorates and most language ability declines.
At this level, brain waves fall into “grooves” (I’m paraphrasing here) and repetitive habits, patterns loop over and over and are almost comforting. Some patients repeat words, other pat or tap or knock. Others like to touch silk or something knobby with texture. Some pace, bang their heads, or yell. Part of it is pent up energy and stress. Part of it due to the profound isolation and lack of stimulus that come with the disease and being sectioned from the rest of the world. Many neurological diseases share these behavioral traits such as severe OCD and schizophrenia.
An excellent tutorial on dementia/Alzheimer’s that’s clear and concise can be found at North Carolina Alzheimer’s Association site (click here)
This presentation by Ms. Snow includes photos of the brain in the various stages, descriptions of different of dementia, including Alzheimer’s, each stage, and how to “reach” your Alzheimer’s/dementia loved one. Honestly, this one document tells you most of what you need to know about the disease without dumbing it down–or drowning you in too much medical jargon.
While your loved one may not be able to communicate with you at this stage, they can still know your presence, send your mood by facial and body gestures, and respond to touch. This is the time when being their care advocate it crucial. While it’s painful to see someone you love in this state, they need you to protect them, be their voice, and make sure they are not in pain or neglected.
I encouraged this sandwich generation mom to sit with her kids and explain in simple terms what Alzheimer’s does to the brain, and why people at this stage act the way they do, and that it’s not something to be afraid of–it’s a medical condition. It’s not contagious, and if they’d like to visit, they are welcome–and the minute they want to leave, you’ll leave. Give them the option.
By demystifying Alzheimer’s/dementia, we help educate our communities. We don’t have to be afraid to visit our loved ones. By understanding what’s happening and how we can reach them, we bring the world a little closer together. One family at a time.