Most days with my Alzheimer’s client were expected to be different.  Alzheimer’s is a disease also known as a neurodegenerative disorder.  It has many symptoms, including memory loss, aggression, confusion, irritability, paranoia and mood swings.  All of which I had experienced with this client from one day to the next.  It remains to be a battle and not easily understood by many people.

I had many learning experiences with this gentleman as I was his 24/7 caregiver.  There were days, in his reality, that I was an enemy from his childhood.  Picking on him at the playground.  There were also plenty of days that we would sit at the kitchen counter top and play card games (war was his favorite).  Though, one particular day stands out when I think about him.

-The day there was a bear in the next room…

The Alzheimer’s page from reality…

…Some experts might say.  A lot of Alzheimer’s sufferers hallucinate in its’ later stages.  Alzheimer’s caregivers know the hard reality of redirecting dangerous hallucinations.  On this particular day, my client was in dyer fear.  His morning routine had placed him on the couch watching movie classics after he had been cleaned up from breakfast.  20 or so minutes later I was putting the washer on the rinse cycle when I heard his screams from the living room.  My initial thought was he had fallen off the couch.

I was very happy to find that it wasn’t the case.  He was still sitting on the couch, safe, but shaking in fear.  Frantically he said,

There’s a Bear in the Next Room 

you need to get me out of here, he’s breaking things and he’ll get us too!!

Like all Alzheimer’s sufferers, you don’t want to immediately dismiss their reality.  It can be degrading, confusing and trigger combative behavior.  Well, I can assure you all….there was no bear.  Maybe a Chihuahua, but not a bear.  This was a first-time experience for me.  In my caregiving career, I understood a fair amount about hallucination management.  Usually dealing with being mistaken for a family member.  For example, as a youth, the elderly ladies at the church would think I was someone else and pinch my cheeks.  But Bears?  Breaking things? Nope!  I sat with him to calm him down and was able to divert his attention towards getting out of the house later that afternoon.  I called it our ‘MilkShake Mission’.  Probably one of his favorite activities.  Honestly, mine too.

Not long after he continued with his outrage….. but then I noticed the television show he was watching, “The Beverly Hillbillies.” It had some interesting happenings.

It just so happens there was a bear running around breaking things and scaring a young girl.

I was dumbfounded.  I changed the station immediately, calmed him down and prepared to launch our Milkshake mission a bit sooner than planned.

Alzheimer’s will keep a caregiver on their toes

There is only so much you can expect while caring for someone with Alzheimer’s Disease.  No days are the same and expect many curve balls.  My advice is to listen and learn about your client.  Extreme changes in their moods and actions can be a regular occurance.  Ask family about the person’s history and experiences to get clues about certain character traits.  The more you know, the better equipped and more successful a caregiver you’ll be.  ‘The Bear in the Next Room’ shows me that the later stage Alzheimer’s brain doesn’t separate fiction and reality very well.  Prepare by regulating the content in their surroundings.  I couldn’t imagine the reaction that day if he was watching ‘Aliens’ or ‘The Boogieman.’

All-in-all a successful day, a good experience and lots learned.

Happy Caregiving!