When a person who doesn't have experience with dementia hears the word, symptoms they'll likely associate with it include forgetfulness, trouble finding the right words, and a loss of concentration and focus. Dementia — a group of symptoms associated with a range of specific conditions, including Alzheimer's — can, however, also lead to significant emotional and personality changes. These may, in some cases, be the first signs relatives and other ones recognize.
My own grandmother started stealing teacups from other residents in order to lick the left-over sugar off, and was incredibly aggressive when her unsuspecting victims wouldn't go along with her wishes, for example. No, my sweet gram didn't suddenly become a monster; she was suffering from dementia.
Emotional And Personality Changes Associated With Dementia
Changes a loved one with dementia may display include those that are reminiscent of depression, such as losing interest in activities that were previously important to a person, social withdrawal and isolation, and apathy. People with dementia may find it hard to make decisions, and no longer initiate social interaction (partially because they forget or think they have already contacted you).
Then, there may be symptoms loved ones find especially hard to cope with. A person with dementia may appear to have "lost their filter", speaking whatever happens to pop into their minds — no matter how insensitive or rude. Aggression, verbal and physical, is part of the spectrum of possibilities, as are paranoia and delusions.
If you suspect an as of yet undiagnosed relative has dementia, letting healthcare providers in their life — a family doctor, a nurse, nursing home staff — know what you have observed can help ensure that your relative receives the right diagnosis and support.
Coping With A Loved One's Dementia-Related Personality Changes
Alzheimer's Disease and other forms of dementia frequently induce a profound sense of loss in both the affected people themselves and their loved ones. Being robbed of your memories or the memories your loved one had of you is no easy ordeal to handle. When people with dementia become unpleasant and aggressive, especially if they were previously loving, caring, people, adds an additional layer of grief that can be extremely hard to cope with.
This is one of those cases in which therapy and counseling are definitely warranted, if you have access, and even more so if you also happen to be among the person's primary caregivers. Stress and a feeling of loss are both inevitable, and you deserve help in coping with those feelings. If you can, also enlist practical help. Make sure that you have some time to yourself, to regroup and recover, both for your own mental health and to be able to support your loved one best.
Remember that these symptoms are caused by dementia, and they aren't a reflection of the person you know and love. They will likely have moments where their old self shines through, and treasuring those times may be one way to help you deal with a difficult situation.
In the meantime, through difficult episodes, remind yourself that reasoning with your loved one with dementia is not going to get you very far. Deflecting, distracting, and continuing to act in a caring manner is your best bet.
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