For eleven years I pleaded with my ‘challenging’ elderly father to allow a caregiver to help him with my ailing mother, but he always insisted on taking care of her himself. Every caregiver I went ahead and hired soon sighed in exasperation, ‘Jacqueline, I just can’t work with your father. His temper is impossible to handle and I don’t think he’ll accept help until he’s on his knees himself.’
When my father’s inability to continue to care for my mother nearly resulted in her death, I stepped in despite his loud protests. It was so heart-breaking as one minute he’d be my loving dad, and then some trivial little thing would set him off and he’d call me nasty names and throw me out of the house the next. I took him to several doctors, only to be flabbergasted that he could act completely darling and normal when he needed to.
Finally, I stumbled upon a thorough neurologist, specialized in dementia, who put my parents through a battery of blood, neurological, memory tests and P.E.T. scans. After ruling out numerous reversible forms of dementia, such as a B-12 and thyroid deficiency, and evaluating their many medications, I was stunned by the diagnosis of Stage One Alzheimer’s in both of my parents – something all their other doctors missed entirely.
What I’d been coping with was the beginning of Alzheimer’s, which starts very intermittently and appears to come and go. I didn’t understand that my father was addicted and trapped in his own engrained negative behavior of a lifetime of screaming and yelling to get his way, but that it was now coming out intermittently in inconsistent spurts of irrationality. I also didn’t understand that demented does not mean dumb (a concept not widely appreciated), and that he was still socially adjusted never to show his ‘Hyde’ side to anyone outside the family. Conversely, my mother was as sweet and lovely as she’d always been.
Alzheimer’s makes up 60-80 percent of all dementia and there’s no stopping the progression nor is there yet a cure. However, if identified early, there are four FDA medications (Aricept, Exelon, Razadyne and Namenda – and many more in clinical trials) that in most people can mask dementia symptoms and keep a person in the early independent stage longer.
Once my parents were properly treated for the Alzheimer’s, as well as the often-present depression in dementia patients, and then calming down my father’s aggression, I was able to optimize nutrition with much less resistance. I was also able to manage the roller coaster of challenging behaviors. Instead of logic and reason, I learned to use distraction and redirection. I capitalized on their long-term memories and instead of arguing the facts, I lived in their realities of the moment. I also learned to just go-with-the-flow and let hurtful comments roll off. And most importantly, I was able to get my father to accept two wonderful live-in caregivers. Then, with the tremendous benefit of adult day health care five days a week for my parents and a support group for me, everything finally started to fall into place.
Jacqueline Marcell is the author of ‘Elder Rage’, www.ElderRage.com/Review.asp. She is also an international speaker on Alzheimer’s as well as breast cancer, which she survived after caring for her parents. She also speaks on caregiver stress and illness, and Alzheimer’s now termed ‘Type 3 Diabetes’, the Obesity Epidemic and Sugar Addiction.