Is it common for Alzheimer's patients to have good and bad days with their memory?

5 answers | Last updated: Dec 08, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

My mother has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's for less than a year, and I've noticed that on some days her symptoms are particularly pronounced, while on others they're hardly noticeable. Is that common?

Expert Answers

Washington University School of Medicine professor John C. Morris directs the Alzheimer's Disease Research Center in St. Louis.

In early Alzheimer's, your mother may have both good days when she seems like her old self, and bad days when she's very forgetful or confused. As professionals, we don't always know the reasons why. Everybody with Alzheimer's is different. It could be partly because of a medication, but typically, it's the stress of "newness."

As long as your mother is doing things that are familiar to her, following a routine, and being with familiar people in familiar surroundings, she may do much better than in new situations. These could include new restaurants, new people, or new activities, such as a vacation or visiting a new doctor in an unfamiliar building. In those new situations, the symptoms become more obvious.

Sometimes when she's doing well, it can lead you to overestimating her actual abilities. I often hear something like, "Mom seemed to be doing fine with her assisted living, so we decided she should go back to see her distant relatives in Germany." Then later the child or spouse reports, "She was so confused on the plane, she didn't know what to do at the hotel.…" New and different circumstances can throw off someone with Alzheimer's.

If your mom is put in a new situation, be prepared to see her confusion increase; she may not be able to function at her usual level. Of course you can't avoid all novelty. Some new experiences, like going to the doctor, are valuable and necessary. But even at a familiar doctor's office, there are many nurses and other physicians. She may seem fine until she gets there. At those times, be prepared to offer more guidance and more support.

Community Answers

A fellow caregiver answered...

I've found that with my mother--who also has Alzheimer's and has days (or shorter periods of time) when she does really well--the bad days seem to have more to do with tiredness or stress than simply being in a new situation.

A few weeks ago, for example, we took my parents to friends of ours that were having a picnic--and even though my mom didn't know hardly anyone there, she had a wonderful time. But other times, after a long, tiring flight, for example, she can seem totally disoriented and confused.

A fellow caregiver answered... mom is the same way. She often has several days when she is up at odd hours, usually just watching TV, but still not really getting a good night's rest. She is more often confused and disoriented on those days. When she spends a few days with us and is on a more normal wake/sleep schedule (eatting more regularly and getting a good 8 hours of sleep) she generally does much better. I think the things that generally throw all of us off a little, often have the same, but greater effect on my mom. Its just an exagerated version of a normal response. Are any of us really on top of our game when we're tired or aren't eatting well?

Fidencia wadleigh answered...

My husband also was Diabetic and slept a lot.I wrote a Poem about it before I found out I wasn't doing him a favor not waking him up so hopefully he would eat something.His sugar was bad and he slid off the Bed and I called 911. At the Hospital they gave him a sandwich and juice and that was what he needed. He didn't need Insulin, he was just on medication. So from then on I was sure he didn't miss any meals.

Here is the Poem DREAM I do not wake my sleeping Husband and it is now 3:00 PM Maybe he is dreaming about when he Could walk for miles and trap again These are things he can no Longer do when he is awake So I leave him alone to Dream for his own sake. Fidencia March 2000

A fellow caregiver answered...

Prof Morris is 100% correct: "CHANGE' is the key word. My wife ( and sorry to tell you) has this terrible illness, but I have been able to correct it and improve her situation. Care givers though may provide physical care they will never be a solution to this group of persons. She hates some of them at eves. They are not trained for psychological attention and response. They challenge a sick person. Me, though an engineer have improved my wife outcome, by careful attention to her needs, and giving her tasks to challenge her mind, her attitude and her aptitude. Some days I challenge her with math problems and she can solve them. Eating out to same place it is a no brainer; but taking her out to a different restaurant and environment it was a real challenge and at the beginning it was hard. But now I apply simple mental persuasion and I get 90 % success. It is KEY that she sees you as a friend, support and security all the time. Not too hard!