Don’t succumb to the anger – either yours or theirs – of caring for family with Alzheimer’s

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FEATURE — For 11 years I pleaded with my challenging elderly father to allow a caregiver to help him with my ailing mother, but he always insisted on taking care of her himself.

Every caregiver I went ahead and hired soon sighed in exasperation, “Jacqueline, I just can’t work with your father. His temper is impossible to handle and he’s not going to accept help until he’s on his knees himself.”

When my father’s inability to continue to care for my mother nearly resulted in her death, I stepped in despite his very loud protests. It was so heart-wrenching to have my once-adoring father be so loving one minute and then some trivial little thing would set him off and he’d call me nasty names and throw me out of the house the next.

I took him to several doctors and even a psychiatrist, only to be flabbergasted he could act so normal and charming when he needed to. Finally I stumbled upon a thorough neurologist who specialized in dementia and put my parents through a battery of blood, neurological, memory tests and PET scans.

After ruling out numerous reversible forms of dementia such as B-12 and thyroid deficiency and evaluating their many medications, he shocked me with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s in both my parents – something all their other doctors missed entirely.

What I’d been coping with was the beginning of Alzheimer’s, which begins so slowly and appears to come and go. I didn’t understand that my father was addicted and trapped in his own bad behavior of a lifetime of yelling to get his way, which was now coming out in over-the-top spurts of irrationality.

I also didn’t understand that demented does not mean dumb – a concept not widely appreciated – and that he was still socially adjusted never to show his Mr. Hyde side to anyone outside the family. Conversely, my mother was as sweet and lovely as she’d always been.

Alzheimer’s makes up 60-80 percent of all dementias, and there’s no stopping the progression nor is there yet a cure. However, if identified early, there are a few FDA-approved medications – with more in clinical trials – that can mask the symptoms in most patients  and keep patients in the early independent stage longer.

Once my parents were treated for the Alzheimer’s – as well as the often-present depression in dementia patients – followed by treatment of my father’s volatile aggression that wouldn’t result in just making him sleep all day, I was finally able to optimize nutrition and fluids with much less resistance.

I was also able to manage the roller coaster of challenging behaviors. Instead of logic and reason, I used distraction and redirection. I capitalized on their long-term memories and instead of arguing the facts, lived in their realities of the moment. I finally learned to just go-with-the-flow and let hurtful comments roll off while distracting with a topic of interest from a prepared list.

And most importantly, I was finally able to get my father to accept two wonderful live-in caregivers and not drive them to quitting. Then with the tremendous benefit of Adult Day Health Care five days a week for my parents and a support group for me, everything finally started to fall into place.

Alzheimer’s afflicts more than 5.7 million Americans, but millions go undiagnosed for years because early warning signs are chalked up to stress and a “normal” part of aging. Since 1 in 6 women and 1 in 11 men are afflicted by age 65, and nearly half by age 85, health care professionals of every specialty should know the 10 warning signs of Alzheimer’s and help educate their patients so everyone can save time, money, heartache … and a fortune in Kleenex.

The signs include such behaviors as difficulty performing familiar tasks, problems with language, problems with abstract thinking and, of course, changes in mood. For a more detailed description of these and the other warnings, click here.

Written by JACQUELINE MARCELL, the author of “Elder Rage,” a Book-of-the-Month Club selection receiving 50+ celebrity endorsements and 550+ 5-Star Amazon reviews. She is also an international speaker on Alzheimer’s, as well as breast cancer, which she survived after caring for her parents.

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Twitter: @STGnews

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