Behavioral Issues In Those Living With Alzheimer’s Disease

Family and friends acting as caregivers for people with Alzheimer’s disease often have a very trying task on their hands. Care giving is a full time job, and on top of having to cope with the emotional toll of watching a loved progressively deteriorate with Alzheimer’s disease, there will also be times that the patient behaves in a distressing manner. Preparing for potential behavioral changes that may arise can help the caregiver deal with the behavior in the best and safest way for the patient.

Alzheimer’s disease presents symptoms in two different classes; cognitive deterioration and psychiatric problems. Cognitive deterioration involves the loss of memory and the ability to solve problems or complete daily activities. The cognitive deterioration is the part of Alzheimer’s disease that is not treatable or reversible.

Psychiatric problems associated with Alzheimer’s disease are the area out of which behavioral problems are most likely to arise. The good news is that most psychiatric and behavioral issues can be treated with the proper medications.

Personality changes are common in Alzheimer’s patients. They may become withdrawn and isolate themselves, or they may become moody and irritable. These changes may be caused by depression over the diagnosis or depression/mood changes brought on the changing chemistry of the patient’s brain. A doctor can prescribe antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications to help with low mood. Depression generally responds to patients even in late stage Alzheimer’s disease, so keeping an eye out for the symptoms can be important to a patient’s well being, even when they can no longer express what they are feeling themselves.

Hallucinations sometimes occur with Alzheimer’s disease, and these can be frightening for both the patient and the caregiver. The patient may experience extreme fear and anxiety and exhibit signs of paranoia. Patients may also become aggressive when hallucinations are present. Patients may also become delusional. Doctors are likely to prescribe anti-psychotic drugs to alleviate hallucinations and delusions.

As well as treating behavioral problems with drugs, caregivers can help manage behavior of patients by using a few techniques.  First of all, establishing a simple routine and sticking to it can provide a sense of stability. Reminding patients of basic, daily facts, such as the month, the year, the town in which they live, and so on, also helps provide a feeling of security. Maintain a calm tone of voice and if the patient becomes agitated, it may help to play music.

Keep a journal of things that might trigger behavioral problems. A new person, a change in routine, a certain food, a certain medication, or any number of things may create a feeling of uncertainty for an Alzheimer’s patient, causing them to lash out.

Make sure the home the patient is living in is “Alzheimer’s friendly.” Label drawers and cupboards, keep a list of numbers by the phone, and post reminders around the house. Keep safety in mind, and ensure that patients cannot wander away on their own, turn on the gas on the stove, or be faced with any other potential dangers.

The most important thing to keep in mind when dealing with an Alzheimer’s patient with behavioral problems is to have an outlet for your own anxiety and frustrations outside of the patient. Acting as a caregiver involves extreme responsibility, and can be a thankless task. However, allowing the patient to see your frustration or sense your anxiety will only cause them further distress, and increase their likelihood of having behavioral problems. Reach out to the doctor for help in regulating behavior and potentially putting the patient on medication to deal with their psychiatric issues. The local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association can provide additional recommendations for dealing with behavioral problems and tips for establishing a safe home and steady routine for Alzheimer’s patients.

Sometimes behavioral problems associated with Alzheimer’s can become overwhelming and too much for one caregiver to deal with. For the safety of the caregiver, and the safety of the patient, it is necessary for the caregiver to reach out for additional help when it is needed. Even though this might mean a stay in a nursing facility for the patient, it is important to realize the Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease and it is not meant to be a burden carried by one person.