Posts Tagged behavior changes

Oh those bizarre habits!

Why it happens I don’t know and I’m not even sure the “experts” know either but besides screwing with the ability to remember things, dementia messes with the person in many other ways. They can become more paranoid or they may go from being mean to lovey dovey and vice versa.  Some change from being neat to being super over the top neat or conversely – very sloppy.

My mother went from being neat and clean and nice (but never warm and fuzzy unless it was with the grandkids) to being so terribly messy, unkempt, and eventually she went through a phase where she wanted to hug and kiss everyone. Oddly, that lovey phase just was weird because for my entire life she was never like that and it just made me uncomfortable. Sad but true.

I’ve seen where the one with dementia would gain weight not because they were that hungry but because they couldn’t remember eating and would eat again thinking they hadn’t eaten or that someone had refused to feed them.  Mom didn’t have that issue.  Fortunately something in her told her to stop cooking and dad took over that task (although I’m not sure how well they were eating as he was getting sicker too) but even with that she began to exhibit odd behavior with meals.

If she ate something and got the hiccups or a bit of gas she would refuse to eat that food again!  Funny, she could remember that something gave her an upset stomach but the rest of her memory was misfiring.  Or maybe it was that she was saying all of those things upset her stomach and she limited her diet to the few things she could remember.  Either way, her diet dwindled down to bottles upon bottles of Pepsi Cola (that was the only cola she would touch) and peppermint candies.  Dad did manage to get other food in her but their trashcan would be filled to the brim with empty cola bottles and the floor around the indoor wastebasket was littered with the peppermint wrappers.

When they had to go into nursing homes and we cleaned out their old house there were so many bottles and wrappers in there I had to resort to using a snow shovel to scoop them all up!  Another behavior change was that she would get confused about temperatures; either over dressing in layers when it wasn’t that cool or she would fiddle with the thermostat and turn the furnace up to just this side of Hades even in the summer!  That last habit proved to be very dangerous later on.

As a caregiver – be it living with your loved one or having to stop by often to check up on them – your work will be cut out for you and my best advice is to get help!  If your loved one doesn’t threaten to clobber you and the person/s you hire to come in to help out (like mom did to me and an agency I enlisted to help – that was one ugly scene!) and you can afford it – do that!  Enlist the help of other family members if you can and they will actually help you.  When all else fails, prioritize!  You can’t and you won’t be able to win them all; work with what you can as well as with what is most important.

Remember – if it comes down to your loved one eating the same thing every day (as long as it’s not unhealthy for them) versus an outright battle, let them eat the same thing!  You might even be able to sneak in some other food if you can disguise it enough;  think how some parents have to try and get veggies into their children.  With bathing if they refuse to get into the tub or shower then go with sponge bathing.  If all else fails gather up your strength for a mighty once or twice a week bath or shower fight.   You will both be less stressed if you attempt this once or twice a week instead of every day.  There’s grubby and there’s GRUBBY!   You will learn to differentiate.

That reminds me of something.  Mom hated taking a shower in the nursing home to the point that they had to give her a mild sedative (how I hate the memory of that) to get her in the tub but one day an aide decided to take her and put her in the whirlpool.  She liked that so much that they no longer had to give her any medication to take a bath.  So maybe switching from bath to shower or the other way around could work for you.  All you can do is try and realize you aren’t a failure at being a caregiver if something doesn’t work out…you just found something that didn’t on the way towards what will!

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Hoarding but not quite hoarding

Ask any caregiver to a loved one with Alzheimer’s or some other dementia and they will all say that the person they once knew begins to change into a different person with different strange habits.  The habits vary from individual to individual but there is a marked change in their personalities.

One of mom’s many personality changes was hoarding…or was it hoarding? I mean, don’t you have to know you keep tons of the same things in order for it to be hoarding?  The jury is out on that definition but mom began to “collect” lots of things.  She had several mixing bowl sets (all the same kind) a serious collection of tee shirts (but not all the same, just a lot of them) and for some reason she bought enough jeans to open up her own denim store.  And the sad thing about all of that clothing is that she only wore a few of the same things over and over and over.

Now many of us exhibit that same behavior, you know where you buy things because you like them and just know that one day you will wear them but you never do.  This results in your going into your closet one day to find something and you run across an item that still has the tags on it.  Most of us feel a bit embarrassed at this point and bemoan wasting the money whereupon we either wear the item, donate it, or give it to someone else.  But with someone with dementia that doesn’t happen.

While wearing the same things over and over (sometimes with us having to crowbar her out of the clothing so they could be washed) mom continued to buy new things seemingly oblivious to the growing piles of the same items.  As I said, she had one closet in my old room stuffed to near bursting with shirts and jeans while the dining room was piled up with pots and pans and mixing bowls but not to the level of the clothing.

Dad just went along with her while my sister and I tried to thin out some of her collections but that didn’t always go well for us.  Oh there would be a few times when mom would give us something from one of her collections saying she had too many and wasn’t using such and such anymore (I still own one of the mixing bowl sets she gave me) and we’d make it home with the item,  but at other times it would get ugly.

By ugly I mean when I would visit mom and dad she would act reasonably normal, other than being a bit disheveled, and would say “I have something to give you that I don’t need anymore” and then take us back to whatever room and hand us some tee shirts or a pot or pan to take home with us.  But by the time mom and I would reach the front of the house and she would turn around and stare at me, whatever had been given was taken back – with a bit of hostility and accusations.

It took that long (or is it that short of a time) for mom to go from being nice and gifting me something in one area of the house to snatching out of my hands whatever it was that I was holding and for her to rail on me about taking her things and why was I trying to steal from her.  The first time she did this I made the mistake of trying to argue with her – “Mom you just gave me this stuff! I’m not trying to take anything from you!” Dumb move on my part but this was something I had to learn the hard way; many caregivers do.

After that I either avoided accepting anything from her, got better at sneaking things out, or I would come up with something along the lines of she asked me to bring these things into the other room for her, etc., or I would just not say a word because in the next few minutes it would all be forgotten by her anyway.

When dealing with a loved one exhibiting this sort of behavior the best you can do sometimes is shrug your shoulders and go with the flow; arguing will get you absolutely no where.  And if you have to help clean out some things it might help if you remove items one or two at a time and space out the times when you do it but don’t try doing it in front of them!  It’s amazing how their memory will pop back in just when you least suspect it.

Remove things when they are occupied in another part of the house with someone else (although paranoia sometimes creeps in and they will want to know where you are and what you are doing) or if you have access to the house when they are gone, like when they are out at the doctors or to lunch with someone, to do it then.  These are just suggestions there is no one size works for all.

You have to figure out what works best for them and for you.

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