Is excessive crying normal for someone with Alzheimer's?

Friendma asked...

My husband cries a lot, no matter what we're discussing. Is that "normal" for a person with Alzheimer's? I can mention the weather, he gets teary-eyed. I mention something I've been doing, he cries. I try to steer our conversations to topics that shouldn't cause that kind of reaction but nothing seems to matter.

Expert Answer

Joanne Koenig Coste is a nationally recognized expert on Alzheimer's care and an outspoken advocate for patient and family care. She is the author of Learning to Speak Alzheimer's. Also, she currently is in private practice as an Alzheimer's family therapist. Ms. Koenig Coste also serves as President of Alzheimer Consulting Associates, implementing state-of-the-art Alzheimer care throughout the United States.

Excessive crying does occur in some people diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease (AD) although it is not common. It is more likely to be noted in patients with a Vascular or Frontotempero Lobe Dementia or a combination of AD and a vascular disease often referred to as a 'mixed dementia'.

Many of us have experienced an occassion when our emotion is not in appropriate check for the occasion - giggling during a religous service, weeping when a moment before we had been laughing at a humorous situation, or expressing out of control anger disproportionate to a simple experience. These excessive displays of feeling generally happen when we are over-tired or really stressed and we quickly recover and acknowledge the reason for their occurrence.

With a dementing cognitive process such as Alzheimer's, it may not be possible to either acknowledge the inappropriate expression of emotion or to recover and move on. The ability to control one's displays of emotion no longer exists. This is often called 'emotional lability'. These disproportionate displays of emotion generally occur in the later stages of dementia and do not last throughout the disease.

It is important to note that a person with AD may be weeping but not necessarily feeling unhappy. Tears may be the expression of multiple emotions ranging from sadness to unbridled joy. Excessive displays of emotion are most challenging for the carepartner or person visiting an AD patient and most likely do not effect the person with the emotional lability. With this in mind, the best treatment is to understand that the cause of the behavior is the disease and not the true emotion being felt by the AD person. Once you have realized the person expressing the tears is really quite calm and not feeling sadness, the best response is to simply tolerate the behavior while acknowledging its probable cause.

Be sure to take care of you the carepartner!