How to Cope when Alzheimer’s Changes Your Loved One’s Personality

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A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease ⁠— the magnitude can be overwhelming for the entire family. While you know the disease will affect your loved one’s memory, you may not be aware of how significantly it can impact their personality. We’ll help you learn what to expect and how to cope with changes as the disease progresses.

Understanding Alzheimer's Disease

Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same thing. In reality Alzheimer’s disease is one type of dementia although it is the most prevalent type.  

According to WebMD, Alzheimer’s disease occurs, “when proteins called plaques and fibers called tangles build up in your brain and block nerve signals and destroy nerve cells.” 

The facts from the Alzheimer’s Association are alarming:

  • Someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s disease every 65 seconds.
  • In 2018, 5.7 million Americans were living with Alzheimer’s; by 2050 this number is projected to near 14 million.
  • One in 10 people age 65 and older has Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that typically affects people over the age of 65 and it has three general stages:
  • Early-Stage – Your loved one may be mostly independent but often repeats questions or comments, misplaces objects, begins avoiding activities, has mood changes and difficulty understanding and/or recalling new information.
  • Middle-Stage – Daily support is often needed and you’ll notice your loved one having greater difficulty communicating in social situations, increased irritability, more withdrawal from regular activities, more frequent memory issues, disorientation even in familiar environments, difficulty with judgement, lack of awareness of time and personality or behavioral changes typically become more evident here.
  • Late-Stage - Care is needed 24/7 and your loved one will have difficulty recognizing familiar people and/or family, they will spend more time sleeping, will lose motor skills and will also need help bathing and toileting.

Effects of Alzheimer's on Personality 

As your loved one’s Alzheimer’s progresses, personality and behavior changes will occur. It’s important to remember that it’s the disease, not your loved one, that’s fueling these changes. 

Common personality changes include:

  • Becoming more easily agitated or angered
  • Acting depressed or uninterested in things
  • Rummaging and hiding things
  • Hallucinations and paranoia
  • Wandering away from home
  • Restlessness and/or frequent pacing
  • Aggressiveness such as hitting you or others
  • Misunderstanding what they see or hear

In addition to changes in your loved one’s brain, other associated factors may compound behavioral effects such as stress related to change in routine, too much noise or other health-related issues such as illness, pain, lack of sleep and poor eyesight or hearing.

Coping Strategies to Help You Both

As hard as it is, try not to take these personality changes related to Alzheimer’s personally. Your loved one’s current behaviors aren’t a reflection of their character or how they feel about you.

General coping strategies include: 

  • Keep things simple; ask or say one thing at a time.
  • Have a daily routine.
  • Reassure your loved one they are safe and you are there to help.
  • Focus on feelings rather than words; for example, say, “You seem worried.”
  • Don’t argue or try to reason.
  • Avoid showing your anger or frustration: step back; take deep breaths, even leave the room for a few minutes if safe.
  • Use humor when you can.
  • Use distractions such as music, singing and dancing or ask for help setting the table, folding laundry, etc.

For any serious safety concerns such as wandering or behaviors such as hitting, biting, depression or hallucinations, talk to your loved one’s doctor. Also consider enrolling your loved one in the MedicAlert®+Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return® Program at www.alz.org.

When It's Time For Additional Help

If your loved one begins to need more care than can be provided at home, it may be time to consider memory care. This type of care is designed to nurture those with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia either in stand-alone communities or as part of a campus that may also include assisted living and skilled nursing care.

In our memory care, you can expect we’ll meet your loved one where they are today and build on the abilities they have retained. Our experienced care team will take the time to get to know them to connect socially and build relationships and trust so they feel secure. We’ll also get them engaged in purposeful activities where they feel successful. Our purpose-built community is secure, easy to navigate and has multiple spaces for your loved one to spend their day - inside and out.  It’s an environment designed specifically to help your loved one navigate all the challenges of Alzheimer’s disease in a way that enhances quality of life.

For more information on memory care for your loved one with Alzheimer’s disease, check out our Family Decision Guide!


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