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Sunday, July 14, 2013

Learning New Patterns of Behavior July 14, 2013

I had a humbling experience this week that helped me understand how difficult it is to be a person with dementia.
We all know that it is hard to break old habits; we decide not to smoke cigarettes and we reach for one anyway for a long time after we have made the decision. We decide to park the car at the end of the mall lot so we get a bit more exercise and we pull into the first open space near the entrance.
We decide not to eat after eight o'clock in the evening because we know it is better for our digestion --and our waistlines, but during the commercial break we get a snack anyway. The list goes on and on and I for one, have never associated this difficulty with the decision-making problems of those who have early stage Alzheimer's disease because these decisions are so problematic all of our lives, not merely as we age.

In the reprint of the Stages of Alzheimer's disease published by the Alzheimer's Association we see that "problems with decision-making" is listed as an early symptom of the disease--not in isolation of course, but as a pattern of behavior that we don't recognize in our loved ones until it is pronounced because we all experience these small examples of repeating habits of behavior after we have decided to change the pattern.

Last week I had the carpets in the house cleaned; it is amazing how much of the desert gets carried into the house and deposited in the carpet! I decided to change the pattern of a lifetime and to remove my shoes at the entrance from the garage and change to slippers to wear in the house. Simple solution to keeping the carpets clean longer, right?
I moved a shoe rack to the laundry room to store my outdoor summer sandals and I planned to change into a pair as I left the house. I washed the soles of my slippers which I sometimes wear into the garage or when taking out the trash.

However, one evening this week I had plans to meet some friends for dinner and I didn't realize until I parked the car in the lot that I was still wearing my fluffy slippers! The table was not ready and I had to sit in the foyer while everyone I thought was looking at my feet and wondering what was wrong because I was wearing house slippers!

For our loved ones with Alzheimer's disease it is impossible for them to learn a new repetitive skill such as placing their dishes into the sink, especially if they have never had to do so when they were working and their spouse did it for them for years. But it becomes also difficult for our loved ones to remember to perform the routine tasks they have always done, like flushing the toilet.

Once again, I remind myself and the other caregivers to reduce our expectations of ourselves and our loved ones, simplify our lives as we care for our loved ones with dementia and have patience with ourselves as we change our patterns of behavior to accommodate their reduced skills.

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