Children Remember, Alzheimer’s Patients Don’t

Remember that Alzheimer's patients aren't children You finally made the decision to entrust Mom to assisted living. You know she’s being cared for with respect and dignity. She’s made friends with the lady in the next room. She seems to be eating well. So why does your stomach do a free-fall each time you drive over to visit her? Is it because you’re not sure what Mom will be like or how she will receive you? Watching a parent disappear into the muddle of age-related dementia or Alzheimer’s disease is not a charted course, nor is it a smooth one.

Don’t Be the Teacher

Do you find that one of the hardest parts of dealing with your parent’s aging is the reversal of roles? All of a sudden you’ve become Mom’s mom. You’re in charge. You have to come up with the answers. Or do you?

You try to give her the tips and tools that worked so well with your kids, but in the end, your efforts end up frustrating and angering her.

For example, she’s told you how frustrated she feels about not knowing what month it is, let alone what day. When your son was in kindergarten, he always wanted to know this information so he could report it at opening ceremony in school each morning. You bought him one of those A-Day-At-A-Time calendars, a Charlie Brown one. He’d faithfully tear off a cartoon each morning and be ready for the day.

So you buy one for Mom: A Joke-a-Day. That will get her day off to a good start. But each time you visit, the pages remain un-torn. You tear them off and remind her how this will help her. Sometimes she seems to ignore you. And other times she rages out. “I”m sorry! I forgot! What’s the difference, anyway?!”

Be Subtle

The difference you need to remember is that what works with children will not work with an Alzheimer’s patient. Children’s brains are developing, displaying a sponge-like ability to absorb and imitate. They want to remember so they’ll do it right next time. So does Mom. But the plaque that is part of the Alzheimer’s puzzle has literally clogged her brain. She may be able to retain your tip for a day, an hour, maybe only a minute. Lessons won’t work. Don’t be a nag.

Why not begin each visit with “Wow, what a stormy Tuesday this turned out to be!” or “Can you believe how April is just flying by?” This is a subtle way to clue her in to where we are on the calendar.

Easy Does It

Are you concerned that she seems to be spending more time in the past than the present?

Remember when you chastised your kids for fantasizing or daydreaming? That’s not what Mom is doing if she thinks she’s back in her childhood days. Her short term memory is gone, but long-ago remembrances remain. For her, the past is more tangible than yesterday.

When it’s your turn to speak, try to gently bring her into the present with tidbits of what’s going on in your life. Stay on the easy does it road and bring her into the present. Yanking is never a good idea

Look for Options

Remember how frustrated your daughter used to become, bursting into tears when she couldn’t zip her jacket? Well, that’s exactly how Dad feels now. Your daughter eventually learned, through necessity. But does Dad need a zippered jacket? Buttons do the same job.

As you discovered with your children, some approaches work. Some don’t. If you’ve found one that does – great! If you haven’t, sometimes it’s best to follow the advice of The Beatles and

Let It Be.