“…now I sleep in another room — with a baseball bat.”
A friend of mine was shocked to hear this revelation from her friend, sole caretaker of her Alzheimer’s-afflicted husband of 50-plus years. Recently, he violently attacked her without provocation.
This apparently happens in 10 to 12 percent of Alzheimer’s cases. This year in California, 65,000 to 75,000 caregivers will be violently attacked by Alzheimer’s sufferers.
Like Jekyll to Hyde, Alzheimer’s sufferers suddenly transform from passively distant to monstrously aggressive — cursing, kicking, punching and biting — driven by hidden demons.
This is the dark untold story of the ugly beast called Alzheimer’s — one not fully addressed even in the new PBS special “Alzheimer’s: Every Minute Counts.”
So what do most victims of their inflicted loved ones do about these attacks? What can they do but cry? It’s the disease — not the patient.
Like most caregivers, my friend’s friend didn’t call the police. How could she press charges against the love of her life who could not even remember his actions?
Embarrassed, she tried to make light of it, laugh it away and even deny the problem. That he could lose all the dignity she so admired in him — succumbing to kicking and clawing like a trapped animal — tore up her “till death do us part” heart.
She didn’t want to hear, “… just put him in a home.” The patient cost of memory care and Alzheimer’s facilities can cost upward of $7,000 a month and not be fully covered by Medicare or insurance.
I hope my friend’s friend opens up to her family and the support that is out there — support groups, local organizations, the Internet, a good doctor and caregivers for hire.
In the meantime, here are some tips for Alzheimer caregivers who find themselves in this volatile, no-win, situation:
Back down. Relax. Calm down. If the patient says no, try again later when the person’s mood has improved.
When the patient is upset, apologize. This will buy time and good will. Don’t argue because you can’t win. Don’t try to physically force the person to do anything.
Change the topic or change the setting. Talk about something the person enjoys while remaining calm. Suggest they go to a place that might be more relaxing and less distracting.
Realize the world is distorted for an Alzheimer’s patient. The patient is hypersensitive to noise, confusion and easily fatigued. They become increasingly irritable and disorientated late in the day: aka the Sundown syndrome. Choose a time when you know the sufferer is most alert and best able to process new information or surroundings — typically mornings.
Call 911 if you or the patient are at risk. When a sufferer sees a uniform, he or she is likely to feel reassured about his or her safety.
For nonemergency help and support, contact the Alzheimer’s Association’s 24-hour hotline at 1-800-272-3900 or alzconnected.org.
If you haven’t already, I encourage you to watch the new PBS special. But, equally important, also watch out for friends, family and neighbors caring for an Alzheimer’s victim.
Until the next time … keep thinking the good thoughts.
— For more than 30 years, Rona Barrett was a pioneering entertainment reporter, commentator and producer. Since 2000, she has focused her attention and career on the growing crisis of housing and support for our aging population. She is the founder and CEO of the Rona Barrett Foundation, the catalyst behind Santa Ynez Valley’s first affordable senior housing, the Golden Inn & Village. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed are her own.