Relationship Changes with Alzheimer’s Patients

September 4, 2007 at 2:56 pm  •  Posted in Alzheimers Disease/Dementia by  •  0 Comments

By Sherry Katz, MSW, LCSW

An Alzheimer’s Disease Scenario
Tips to Help You Cope With a Family Member’s Alzheimer’s Disease
Seek Professional Help
Be Optimistic



Here are some suggestions for family members who sometimes feel upset or lost upon hearing their  family member with Alzheimer’s disease say some startlingly strange comments.

Because people who have Alzheimer’s disease loses their thinking abilities, they also steadily decline in their ability to participate and manage their share in a relationship. Any sort of jumbling of names, relationships, time, location, can occur.

Also, processing emotion and responding with feeling requires verbal skills which the patient is in midst of losing. Not only will the individuals with Alzheimer’s disease  have difficulty  recalling and using facts accurately in a conversation, they will also gradually show strange or no emotional understanding of what is presented.

An Alzheimer’s Disease Scenario

Here is an example of  a factual and emotional loss, each resulting from the Alzheimer’s disease. If you relate to the following scenario, the tips below may help you navigate the frustration of living with this disease.

Dad suggests writing to “your uncle”, while in reality referencing your son. When you state the obvious correct facts calmly, dad doesn’t recall making the comment. The conversation continues, he says the exact same message. This time, responding calmly is more difficult. You sound exasperated and dad is bewildered as to why. You explain the reason and he shrugs, still not understanding, and then moves on to another activity.

Tips to Help You Cope With a Family Member’s Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Recognize unusual responses and conversation for what it is: Alzheimer’s disease announces itself through random series of lost functioning, reasonable conversations being one area. If you notice someone you know saying strange things, this could be Alzheimer’s disease “talking”, and not the person.
  • Don’t try convincing or persuading the person of the “facts”: this will probably result in each of you becoming more stressed and frustrated.
  • Recognize that your relationship with the patient is shifting.
  • Accept that the “before” behaviors and ways of the patient are leaving.
  • Be honest with yourself about your feelings living with the “after” picture (person).
Seek Professional Help

Adjusting to the above is complicated: it is difficult losing a relationship with someone when discussion is possible and there is extreme disagreement. It is extraordinarily strange to lose a relationship because one person gradually cannot discuss anything. Clinical social workers can help you address any particulars of your inner reactions to such a situation.

Be Optimistic

Although reasoning and language skills gradually leave the patient, the patient often can still relate with simple emotions. Smiles of recognizing familiar others, or of gentle touch continues long into the illness. Your loved one may be able to communicate non-verbally, so try getting the most of that capacity.


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