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10 Things (Besides Memory) Alzheimer's Steals From Its Victims

MsDora shares information and insights from her experience as a four-year caregiver to her late mother who suffered from Alzheimer's.

My total knowledge of Alzheimer’s before it entered my household was that it steals the memory of its victims. Many other individuals know just as little. Now, after years of close encounters with the disease, plus efforts to learn more about it, many other personal losses to the victim have become obvious.

This list of ten losses is by no means all-inclusive.

Auguste Deter, First Alzheimer's Diagnosis 1901.

Auguste Deter, First Alzheimer's Diagnosis 1901.

1. Caution

When my mother had the ability to exercise caution, she could refuse to express the offensive words which she now utters freely. Her brain has removed the "caution" option.

These rude remarks which come surprisingly and intermittently may be easier to handle than the silence which the caregiver will face when the Alzheimer’s patient no longer communicates, warns Carol O’Dell on caring.com. So blame them on the lack of caution rather than take them personally.

Alzheimer's disease leads to nerve cell death and tissue loss throughout the brain. Over time, the brain shrinks dramatically, affecting nearly all its functions.

— Alz.org

2. Cheerfulness

The American Alzheimer’s Association offers the expert opinion that depression plagues 40% of Alzheimer’s victims. Sad, hopeless, discouraged or tearful are the usual descriptions of their mood.

They withdraw into social isolation and suggestions to cheer up are usually not helpful. Caregiver or group support may help some; others may require professional services.

3. Clarity

Alzheimer’s patients are confused about where they are. They want to go home, even when they’re at home. They may interpret a noise or the presence of a stranger as an effort to hurt them. They search around them for objects like purses, walking canes, and even pets which they think were in their possession a minute ago (but weren’t). Psychosis may account for voices they hear in the next room or outdoors, and sometimes in their confusion, they wander off.

4. Cleanliness

My mother maintained a home which was beautiful and clean, and so was she. Now, Alzheimer’s has stolen her sense of cleanliness. Her confusion results in struggles between us to have her shower and change her clothes. We have talked enough about flushing the toilet.

Hearing a caregiver in a home for the elderly shouting to a ninety-year-old woman that she was nasty, it became obvious that even some caregivers still have much to learn. Respect for the patient cancels disgust for the situation which Alzheimer's creates.

5. Comfort

There are many issues which can create a feeling of discomfort in Alzheimer’s patients. Among them are:

  • Unfamiliarity with the surroundings;
  • Voices they alone can hear;
  • Fear of the dark;
  • Nighttime wakefulness;
  • Dry mouth caused by some medications;
  • Other physical discomfort which they are not always able to explain.

Easing the discomfort requires that caregivers pay attention and make necessary changes to accommodate the changing needs of the patient.

According to the Alzheimer's Association, one third (33%) of the people with dementia said they lost friends following a diagnosis. Photo by Jamain

According to the Alzheimer's Association, one third (33%) of the people with dementia said they lost friends following a diagnosis. Photo by Jamain

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6. Connectedness

Recently, my daughter came to visit. Some days she and my mother connected, but one day my mother asked her name and promised to remember it since it was the name of someone in her family. There are also days when she addresses me as “Miss.” The disconnection is more than a memory problem. When patients do not connect, they refuse to trust and they reject unfamiliar company.

"Do not lose your patience with me,

Do not scold or curse or cry.

I can’t help the way I’m acting,

Can’t be different though I try."

— Darnell Owen

7. Conscience

We expect that sense of right and wrong will improve in children as they grow older. In Alzheimer’s patients, that sense is on the decline. Sometimes they understand what they are doing; sometimes they do not.

Biblical Medical Ethics, edited by Ed Payne, M.D. counsels: “If he [the patient] has no consciousness of his actions because of his disease, then his conscience is not ‘active’ and he should not be held accountable for his actions.” The article further suggests that it is better for caregivers to err on the side of greater rather than insufficient understanding.

8. Control

Alzheimer’s steals control gradually but continually. Patients are forced to give up responsibilities of driving, shopping, managing finances and maintaining the home. Activities of daily living (ADL) such as bathing, grooming and dressing become difficult and impossible. They eventually revert to the childish dependence on assistance with feeding and toileting.

When patients lose control of their expertise, they also lose their sense of worth. Caregivers have the additional task of helping them feel loved and valuable.

9. Conversation

Verbal communication becomes almost impossible when patients lose the capability of expressing themselves accurately. Plus, they very often misunderstand what the other person is trying to communicate.

For example, my mother will respond to a request like, “Can you please take your cane off the table?” with an angry defense that the cane is hers. She might continue for the next five minutes, listing other things that belong to her which other people are using.

Still, it does not feel right to avoid conversation altogether. Caregivers will learn to pay more attention to the emotions behind the words than to the words themselves. For example, when my mother gets angry about other people using her belongings, she may be asking for assurance that her possessions are safe and that she will have them when she needs them for her personal use.

10. Credibility

It is easy to think that my mother tells lies, but that was not characteristic of her before Alzheimer’s. She has told several different stories about who stole her money, her clothes, and her dishes. Some of the stories were so convincing that there seemed no reason to doubt their authenticity. It became obvious to me that her credibility was gone, only when she began to accuse me wrongfully.

Conclusion

For every one of these losses to the Alzheimer's victims, there are also losses to the relatives and caregivers. It is like watching a robber in slow motion stealing our stuff. Let it not steal our love.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2015 Dora Weithers

Comments

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on July 22, 2020:

Audrey, this is a very difficult experience you're encountering. Your sister is not even able to express how she feels and that's hard on both of you. I pray for you both the grace and strength you need to endure My mother has passed, and I still have some uncomfortable memories; but there are still reasons to be grateful and encouraged.

Audrey Hunt from Pahrump NV on July 22, 2020:

I'm having such a hard time watching my sister turn into a person I no longer recognize. It's so difficult. I want so much to be there for her. My only contact is by phone and she doesn't seem to know who I am anymore.

I'm so sorry that you are going through this with your mother. My sister also lies and I don't know what to believe so I just listen. If I try to respond she doesn't seem to hear me.

Thank you for addressing this serious issue.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on July 15, 2020:

Thanks, Cynthia. Glad you found the list handy. Caregivers need all the insight they can handle.

Cynthia Zirkwitz from Vancouver Island, Canada on July 14, 2020:

This article clearly and compassionately covers signicant human losses for persons with Alzheimers. If everyone caring for a person with Alzheimers had thos list handy, i am pretty sure tjere would be more understsnding and appropriate responses to the patient. I.am going to share this. Thank you!

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on March 20, 2016:

Shanmarie, you're very kind. Thanks for your encouragement.

Shannon Henry from Texas on March 20, 2016:

Let it not steal our love. It takes the love of people for the patient if not careful and the love of family and friends for one another as they struggle to understand what is happening. You have a beautiful, loving soul. That is clear to me. My prayers are with you.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on March 20, 2016:

Audrey, your compassion and patience will grow as you communicate with your sister. Your love will strengthen your ability to comfort her. Prayers and blessings for you both.

Audrey Hunt from Pahrump NV on March 19, 2016:

Each time I speak to my sister by phone (daily) by the time we say goodbye I'm completely drained. I love her so much. Your hubs about Alzheimer's are a huge help. You are an angel. Thank you dearest Dora!

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on November 11, 2015:

Lareene, I see we're having the same experience with our mothers. I pray the same strength for you that I pray for myself. Thanks for commenting.

Lareene from Atlanta, GA on November 10, 2015:

My mother has alzheimer's and I too know these things in fact and in deed. Well put.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on October 14, 2015:

JG, I appreciate your feedback.

jgshorebird on October 13, 2015:

Good info. Thank you.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on October 04, 2015:

Thanks, Flourish. I appreciate your kind sentiment. Writing helps me sift through the emotions. Thanks for reading.

FlourishAnyway from USA on October 04, 2015:

This was sad but well done. My great grandmother used to tell very improbable stories. She had many of the cognitive and emotional signs you describe and it was hard to recall sometimes the woman that she was when we were surrounded by the illness. I'm sorry about your mother's condition as well as how some people respond to her.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on September 28, 2015:

Ireno, the patience of caregivers and everyone else concerned is really tried. Glad you survived with more patience. Thanks for your comment.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on September 28, 2015:

Deb, this disease is no fun at all. Thanks for commenting and affirming the necessity of the article.

Ireno Alcala from Bicol, Philippines on September 27, 2015:

I lived with an aunt (an educator) for a year suffering from this disease. Patience became my greatest virtue. Thank you, Ms. Dora for expounding this topic.

Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on September 27, 2015:

Alzheimer's is a tough disease, especially when the folks know that things are amiss with them. It must be a horror to realize that your are growing inept. This was definitely a necessary article.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on September 24, 2015:

Thanks, Alicia. Love is a pacifier. It never fails.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on September 24, 2015:

I'm so very sorry that you and your mother are going through this experience, Dora. It must be so difficult for you both. I love the last sentence in this hub, which is very important.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on September 24, 2015:

Hi Bill. When I think I'm getting a grip on some aspect of the disease, that aspect changes and there's more to learn. Your kind sentiments encourage me. Thanks!

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on September 24, 2015:

Hi Wendy. Thanks for joining my HubCircle. Perhaps you shared my lack of knowledge about all the other elements the disease steals from the victim. Glad to share this information. See you around.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on September 24, 2015:

Thanks Ann. You give good counsel on hanging on to the glimpses of clarity. It is such a blessed event when they happen.

William Kovacic from Pleasant Gap, PA on September 24, 2015:

Thank you Dora, for teaching us about this terrible disease that is so misunderstood. My heart goes out to your mother and to you. Your love for her shows in every word!

Wendy Henderson from PA on September 24, 2015:

This is such a sad and terrible disease. Thanks for making me aware that there is more to it then just memory loss.

Ann Carr from SW England on September 24, 2015:

You have highlighted all these losses expertly, Dora. Such a terrible thing for the victim and for the loved ones/carers. Their characters change but now and then we see flashes of clarity, whilst they last. We have to hang on to those and just talk and love as before. You are obviously a caring, understanding and loving person.

Ann

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on September 24, 2015:

Devika, good to see you. Thanks for your encouraging feedback.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on September 24, 2015:

A well shared hub with many interesting facts. A topic that would help many individuals in such situations.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on September 23, 2015:

Don, please do not get frightened. Take care of yourself. Be intentional about proper nutrition, adequate exercise and rest, and laugh a lot. Enjoy today and pray instead of worry. Best to you, going forward.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on September 23, 2015:

Frank, thanks for reading and expressing your concern. It really is dehumanizing, but it is not complete loss of life. Still, hard to take.

Don A. Hoglund from Wisconsin Rapids on September 23, 2015:

My oldest brother died in his erly 60's. He had acquired this desease which none of us had heard of until then. My sister now has it and it is sad to contemplate. My other brother died last year abd may have had it. He had other brain problems from a tumor, so we do not know. I pray that I escape it.

Frank Atanacio from Shelton on September 23, 2015:

it's such a sad disease, disorder, whatever you need to call it. Once the memory is gone from a human vessel so is life.. that's what I believe.. thank you so much for sharing this piece.. it must have really shaken you while writing this bless you