Friday, February 12, 2010


Have you ever asked yourself this question when your loved one with dementia is being obnoxious? I did. Frequently. Then, of course, I felt guilty for having this reaction. Here’s what the social workers told me:

"First of all, it’s a normal question about normal behavior for someone with cognitive decline. Many dementia sufferers have difficult behavior patterns, including such things as overeating without remembering they just ate, asking the same questions repeatedly, physically aggressive actions, removal of clothing in public, loudly insulting people in public places, and... (you can fill in the blanks I am sure with many other behaviors.)

Second of all, it’s not “about me.” It’s about her...or him...or them. It’s a disease process—an illness. Your loved one cannot control the symptoms of this sickness any more than if it were pneumonia, or heart disease, or cancer, or any other dread condition. Things are happening in his or her brain that affect behavior."

Chances are your loved ones would have been embarrassed to death if their earlier, healthy, selves could see them now. It’s up to us as caregivers to recognize that they are not “doing it to us,” and to forgive them—daily if necessary. They just can’t help themselves.

I know it’s hard to do this when Mom tells you your brother (or sister) is more caring, more solicitous, more anything than you when you know that the sibling in question has run the other way as fast as his (her) legs can move (without ever looking back). She doesn’t mean it! And don’t blame your sibling for running. You would too if you could, wouldn’t you? (Not really, but you do think about it, don’t you?)

So recognize the wisdom of the “social worker” advice I’m passing along. If you can get yourself to ignore the behaviors as symptoms of disease and not take them personally (even when they seem to be personal), you’ll be a much happier person and a better caregiver for your loved one with dementia.

(This is an encore article originally published June 2008)

Bob Tell
Dementia Diary, A Caregiver's Journal