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Learning to cope when a spouse has dementia


My mom has Alzheimer’s, yet my dad is very impatient with her. What can I do to help them? 

Alzheimer's and dementia are difficult to understand and cope with – particularly for the family members of the person with the disease. It’s especially challenging for some to understand that the difficult behavior of a person with dementia symptoms is caused by the disease and is not deliberate, since they can sometimes go in and out of behaving normally. Sometimes – because of past history, unresolved conflicts or old patterns of behavior – spouses or adult children react to the person with Alzheimer’s or dementia with a heightened sense of frustration, striking back as if the aggravation is deliberate. To make matters worse, people with Alzheimer’s are easily agitated, and an angry response from a loved one can result in a firestorm that is painful for everyone involved.

That said, it’s important that you help your parents avoid this type of situation. Your dad may need a third party to validate what you’re telling him about dementia, Alzheimer's and difficult behavior. As a first step, you could approach your mother’s physician, explain the situation, and ask him or her to speak with your dad about the disease and its stages. A medical explanation complete with brain scans should help, but it should be accompanied by a description of how Alzheimer’s causes behavior changes in people. If you can’t get a physician to tell him, then try another professional he trusts.
Another possible source of help for your dad is others caring for family members with Alzheimer’s, so you should search for local Alzheimer’s support groups through the Alzheimer’s Association. Just meeting other people caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia and learning how they manage can be helpful, as it will prove to your father that he’s not alone – and that your mom’s behavior isn’t uncommon or purposeful. Alzheimer's support groups can also help identify other resources for you and share helpful strategies to respond to your mother’s behaviors. Additionally, support groups will know about the latest medications and treatments that could possibly help to lessen some of your mother’s Alzheimer's symptoms.
To find an Alzheimer’s Association support group anywhere in the country, go to Also, you can call the Alzheimer’s Association’s 24-hour Helpline at 1.800.272.3900. Another excellent resource is The 36-Hour Day, authored by Nancy Mace and Peter Rabbins, which offers clear guidance and information for families caring for persons with Alzheimer’s and dementia.



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