Is it normal for mom with Alzheimer's to seem distant?

1 answer | Last updated: Sep 17, 2016
Shelly13 asked...

about 5 weeks ago my mom moved in with us. She had just been diagnosed with alzhiemers. The dr.'s recommened she not be alone more than a couple of hours. She has always loved the great grand kids but now she seems to be distant.Is this normal? She also sleeps 14 hours and up a day is this normal? Just seems like her personality has changed. thank you

Expert Answers

Ron Kauffman is a certified senior advisor (CSA), senior lifestyle radio host, syndicated newspaper columnist, and the author of Caring for a Loved One With Alzheimer's Disease. In addition, Kauffman is also the primary caregiver for his mother, who has Alzheimer's.

Hi, thanks for your question. I'm sorry to hear that your mom has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. The one thing I can assure you of is that for different patients, "normal" behavior means a lot of different things. There is no one identical path all patients follow.

With Alzheimer's disease, the most recent memories are typically the first to be forgotten. This may explain her response to her great grandchildren "“ she simply may no longer remember them.

My mother, who also had Alzheimer's was unable to remember my son or his children, and over time, forgot the names of my brother and sister as well.

My point is that as a caregiver, knowing exactly what to expect is rarely possible regarding the path of the disease or what your mom will or won't remember. In the situation with her great grandchildren you might try showing her photos of the parents of those children, tell her who the adults are and if she recognizes them, help her form the mental link to their children. Slowly and patiently explain to her that those children are her great grandchildren. This may or may not be a concept she'll understand, and that's okay.

As for her 14-hours of sleep per day, there are several possibilities that may cause that including: 1) the prescription drugs she may be taking "“ have her doctor review them; 2) she may be depressed "“ have the doctor determine that and there are medicines that can help her mood & energy; 3) it might be a result of her age, which you didn't state "“ that might be considered normal for her age; 4) part of her fatigue may be due to the Alzheimer's disease or other debilitating problems or illnesses she may have; 5) now that she lives with you, her environment may lack some of the stimulation and enrichment of an assisted or skilled facility that has planned music, games, movies, shows and many other activities to keep residents active and engaged on a daily basis.

You might consider, if your mom is able, taking her to a senior daycare center that specializes in caring for and working with patients with dementia and doing that a few times a week. You may find that these professionals can engage her and get her to be a bit more active or proactive in her life.

I also suggest you contact the Alzheimer's Association and discuss your concerns with them. Ask if there are any programs available for your mother or if there any in-home services available that might provide the stimulation that may be missing in her life at this point. You might, if it's financially possible, bring in a geriatric care manager to establish a plan and help put activities and people in place to enrich your mother's life to the extent that it brings her some joy & happiness.

One more thought, if your mother likes or used to like music, you or another family member can play the music she knew and loved and sing along or talk with her about what she recalls when she hears that music. If she liked art, you can have her "help" her grandchildren color, paint, create etc. art "projects" with her. Hopefully, you see where I'm going with this line of suggestions.

The sad reality is that as the disease progresses, your mom will continue to lose more of her memory, her spontaneity and desire for involvement with many aspects of living that she enjoyed previously. Set your expectations for your mother at a level that best matches her physical and mental condition, knowing that the level will continue to change over time. Be patient, be loving, and take care of yourself, because the demands of her disease will continue to be a challenge for her and you. Good luck.