When Alzheimer's Steals Your Loved One's Personality

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As Alzheimer's disease (AD) progresses, it destroys memory, brings on erratic behavior and robs a person of their personality. You may find you are caring for a father who no longer recognizes you; a mother with whom you no longer share any emotional connection; or a spouse who does not appreciate, or even want your help. How do you keep caring for and loving someone who is a shell of the person you once knew?

Most people are aware, even if only a little, of the expected prognosis of the disease. Even so, this does not make it easy to go through the stages. It is only natural to assume and expect our parents to share the precious memories that we still hold dear, yet those who suffer from the disease are victims as their memories disappear one by one. As family caregivers stand by helplessly; it is important to remember that we have to care for our mental, physical and emotional wellbeing.

Two experts who work with AD patients and their families spoke with AgingCare.com about this dilemma.

Cindy Laverty , a caregiver advocate, founder of The Care Company and The Cindy Laverty caregiving talk show, and a former caregiver herself, feels the most difficult part is letting go of the relationship you once shared with your loved one. "The father who once provided strength and comfort is no longer able to," she says. "Now, he needs your strength and comfort."

Ms. Laverty recommends that you allow yourself time to feel whatever emotions come your way. Giving yourself permission to grieve will help you go on, to continue caregiving with more purpose and clarity. "Feel the sadness, anger, unfairness and the frustration. Allow yourself time to grieve. Try to fully embrace the fact that you can do nothing to bring your loved's memory or personality one back."

Kenneth M. Sakauye, a geriatric psychiatrist at UT Medical Group in Memphis, Tennessee, says while the disease changes personalities and relationships, "that doesn't mean you stop loving," however, "you may have to dig a little deeper to find that love." On the toughest days, try to remember how your loved one once was. If there was once an affectionate bond, he says, it hasn't disappeared. "It's changing and growing," he says. Adult children who have the opportunity to care for their aging parents experience a part of the natural life cycle as the caregiving roles reverse.

As an example of how relationships evolve, Dr. Sakauye cites a caregiver who spent her entire life seeking her mother's approval and affection. She felt her mother loved her sister more. Yet after her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, she stopped playing favorites – and the daughter stopped caring about being the favorite. She simply enjoyed the time they had left together. It created a special bond that actually brought them closer than ever before.

No relationship remains the same forever. "As a parent, you loved your children differently when they were two than when they were 20," he points out. "It's the same as your parent ages."

Even in the most advanced cases of Alzheimer's, your loved one may have moments of clarity and recognition. They will be fleeting, but embrace, treasure and remember them. Your loved one is still there, and your love has not abandoned you.

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14 Comments

How about those of us who are in our 50s and 60s caring for our Spouse, not our parent? As those in my support group agree, it is an even more difficult situation. We do not have a spouse as a helpmate at the end of a day after caring for the AD patient. Our helpmate is the one who has AD.
I took care of my Dad for two years until he passed in 2008, two weeks after he passed my Mom had a massive stroke and I brought her to come live with me so that I could take care of her. In that first years time, she had a massive stroke which stole her ability to read, which she loved to do,she can't see colors anymore, then she had a heart attack and lung cancer....which ended up in the removal of part of her lung! For the past 5-6 years I have taken care of my parents in every sense of the word, bathing, feeding, dressing, medications etc....I feel so cheated by this nasty, horrible disease. It took two loving parents and my best friends from me. I never get any sleep, because Alzheimer's patients tend to stay awake all night and doze all day.....I'm exhausted, and then I find that when I want to rest, my Mom will tell me she can't imagine why I'm so tired all the time.....that crushes me! She tells me that I am the most incondiderate person she has ever known and all kinds of mean things like that. I quit my job to take care of them and keep them at home, then she talks to me like that. I know it's the disease, because when she was well, she would never had said things like that to me, we were best friends and had a blast together, now all I get is "blank stares" and forced laughs when I try to remind her of something funny we did or said. I don't think she remembers, but if I laugh she will laugh, and you can tell she doesn't really know what she is laughing at! How horrible it must be for the alzheimer's patient. I hate this disease, and I feel so alone and angry. I pray a lot and and I cry a lot! I miss her so badly, I don't even know this person I call Mom anymore!!!!! I pray that they will find a cure very quickly!!!
I'm 56 and my husband is 60. He has Picks Disease. He is like 8 years old and totally incontinent. He sleeps in a hospital bed in the same room as I. It has been going on now for 4 years. What about the loneliness and the compassion you miss. How do you get through that. I feel as if I'm fading away like him. He requires 24/7 care. He still knows family, but not much family relief.