Understanding How Alzheimer's Disease Changes People

Monday, 17 October, 2016

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It's important to remember that the disease, not the person with AD, causes these changes. Also, each person with AD may not have all the problems we mention here.

The following sections describe the three main challenges that you may face as you care for someone with AD:

Changes in communication skills

Communication is hard for people with AD because they have trouble remembering things. They may struggle to find words or forget what they want to say. You may feel impatient and wish they could just say what they want, but they can't. It may help you to know more about common communication problems caused by AD.

Here are some communication problems caused by AD:

  • Trouble finding the right word when speaking
  • Problems understanding what words mean
  • Problems paying attention during long conversations
  • Loss of train-of-thought when talking
  • Trouble remembering the steps in common activities, such as cooking a meal, paying bills, getting dressed, or doing laundry
  • Problems blocking out background noises from the radio, TV, telephone calls, or conversations in the room
  • Frustration if communication isn't working
  • Being very sensitive to touch and to the tone and loudness of voices

Also, AD causes some people to get confused about language. For example, the person might forget or no longer understand English if it was learned as a second language. Instead, he or she might understand and use only the first language learned, such as Spanish.

Changes in personality and behavior

Because AD causes brain cells to die, the brain works less well over time. This changes how a person acts. You will notice that he or she will have good days and bad days.

Here are some common personality changes you may see:

  • Getting upset, worried, and angry more easily
  • Acting depressed or not interested in things
  • Hiding things or believing other people are hiding things
  • Imagining things that aren't there
  • Wandering away from home
  • Pacing a lot of the time
  • Showing unusual sexual behavior
  • Hitting you or other people
  • Misunderstanding what he or she sees or hears

Also, you may notice that the person stops caring about how he or she looks, stops bathing, and wants to wear the same clothes every day.

Changes in intimacy and sexuality

Intimacy is the special bond we share with a person we love and respect. It includes the way we talk and act toward one another. This bond can exist between spouses or partners, family members, and friends. AD often changes the intimacy between people.

Sexuality is one type of intimacy. It is an important way that spouses or partners express their feelings physically for one another.

AD can cause changes in intimacy and sexuality in both the person with AD and the caregiver. The person with AD may be stressed by the changes in his or her memory and behaviors. Fear, worry, depression, anger, and low self-esteem (how much the person likes himself or herself) are common. The person may become dependent and cling to you. He or she may not remember your life together and feelings toward one another. Sometimes the person may even fall in love with someone else.

You, the caregiver, may pull away from the person in both an emotional and physical sense. You may feel be upset by the demands of caregiving. You also may feel frustrated by the person's constant forgetfulness, repeated questions, and other bothersome behaviors.

Most caregivers learn how to cope with these challenges, but it takes time. Some learn to live with the illness and find new meaning in their relationships with people who have AD.