Do all Alzheimer's patients have a negative attitude?

Lprkn asked...

The problem I am facing now is my mom's attitude. She always complains about everything.She has nothing nice to say about anyone,nothing I do is good enough, I ALWAYS HAVE TO REMIND HER to change because she has incontinence and she gets mad at me and says I am picking on her.I try to tell her she needs to smell nice and she gets angry with me and it turns into a big fight. She would oly change once a day if she had her way.Do all Alzheimer patients get the negative attitude?? She has never had a sweet temperament for some reason, I was just hoping this was temporary but it isn't looking like it. Also, I cannot find things to keep her busy.She gets frustrated and quits. I try to help her and do things with her and she will have nothing to do with it. I am at my wits end here. Please give me some insight. Thank you for your time!!

Expert Answer

Jytte Lokvig, PhD, coaches families and professional caregivers and designs life-enrichment programs and activities for patients with Alzheimer's disease and related dementia. Her workshops and seminars help caregivers and families create a healthy environment based on dignity and humor. She is the author of Alzheimer's A to Z: A Quick-Reference Guide.

People with Alzheimer's or other memory-impairment tend to reflect the mood, tone and attitude of their caregivers. Because of their disorders, their impressions and perceptions are easily distorted and influenced by external factors.

It takes very little to maintain a harmonious relationship and avoid conflict when we realize that everyone needs to feel some self-determination. Everyone needs a purpose and very few people are comfortable having to live by somebody else's rules, however innocent and well-intentioned.

When we caregivers set a positive tone, we'll get a positive reaction; maybe not right away, but when we stick to it, things will improve. Family caregivers have a particularly hard time, because of the history and baggage that comes with any long-term relationship. Even a demented mother may still know which "buttons" to push. Also, no matter how old we are, we're still our mothers' daughters and when they criticize us, it's particularly hurtful, especially when we're sacrificing a lot of our time and freedom to their care.

I'm going to challenge you to make a complete 180º shift in your communication and interactions with your mother. The key is for you NOT to be the "authority" over your mother, NOT to remind her or to correct her. When you find yourself on the verge of a negative reaction, take a deep breath and change the subject. When she criticizes you, ask for her suggestions and find a way to compliment her, even if you feel the compliment is completely made up.

Now to the specifics: Instead of reacting defensively when your mother criticizes you, ask for her suggestions. You see, you're in control of her life, so she'll try to assert herself whenever she can and criticizing you is a surefire weapon.

Incontinence. Take your mother shopping and have her choose among the pull-ups that look like regular underwear. (Some of them offer a variety of colors and designs.) Then later you can offer to help her change into the neat new "underwear" that she herself chose. Add a compliment on her choice. You'll probably want to avoid using the term: "diaper" "“ rather call them "briefs" or simply "underwear."

Find ways to "remind" her without being obvious, i.e. "Hey, mom, I thought you might want to try this new cologne when you've finished changing. Can I give you a hand?" Hint-hint! If she insists that she doesn't need to change her brief, drop it for now and revisit later. The worst thing you can do is to pursue it. The more you push, the more she'll resist. It's simple human nature.

Rather than telling her that she needs to smell nice, compliment her when she does smell nice; otherwise don't say anything. You'll be amazed at the power of compliments and positive approaches.

Let us know how you do.