When Kelli Corcoran found her father Edward, 74, sitting in front of the TV watching a gameshow one afternoon, she instantly knew something was wrong. But she had no idea what it was.
“It was completely out of character,” Corcoran explained. “My dad was a research psychologist before he retired. He was always a voracious reader and he hated daytime television. I thought maybe he needed new reading glasses. But when I asked him why he was watching TV, he got really mad.”
More out-of-character behavior was followed by more baffling angry outbursts and increasingly obvious short-term memory problems. Nearly a year passed before Edward was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
The diagnosis was really upsetting but it helped explain some of Dad’s bizarre behavior,” said Corcoran. “I finally asked enough questions to figure out his gameshow obsession. He was worried about money.”
It can be easy to ignore unusual behavior or attribute it to something minor like bad reading glasses or a bad mood. It’s also easy to think it’s your fault or that you’ve done something to cause a loved one to act in a strange or aggressive way.
“Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia can be confusing as well as challenging,” explains Tammy Won, Care Manager at Honor and a Licensed Vocational Nurse. “Sometimes it’s hard to understand what’s causing unusual behavior or odd repetition, especially before a diagnosis*—and that’s frustrating and even scary.”
5 Tips for Caring for People with Alzheimer’s
Tammy, an Honor Alzheimer’s Care Expert, shares her most helpful advice for family caregivers:
1. Stay calm and be patient.
2. Rather than focusing on the odd behavior and reacting to it, try to understand and soothe the emotions motivating that behavior.
3. Look for a real reason behind the behavior, such as pain or discomfort, or fear of an unfamiliar noise, place, or person.
4. If the behavior isn’t harmful to anyone, let it go. By accepting the behavior for what it is, a symptom of a disease, you may reduce your loved one’s anxiety—and your own.
5. Don’t take it personally. Alzheimer’s and other progressive dementias cause a decline in your loved one’s ability to make sense of the world—not in their ability to love you or feel your love.
To find more Alzheimer’s caregiver tips and information on caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia, including resources in your area, visit the Alzheimer’s Association.
* The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that only 40% of people with Alzheimer’s have been diagnosed with the disease.