October 17th, 2011 at 9:00 am
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Coping with the compulsive behaviors of Alzheimer’s

by Judy Kirkwood

We used to roll our eyes and laugh when my dad would open his wallet and count his money over and over.

I wish I had known that compulsive behavior is a typical manifestation of anxiety for those with Alzheimer’s. Dad knew at some level it was important to have money on hand, but he didn’t remember why. To a man, the wallet symbolizes being a  provider. In fact, many times, Dad would not only count his money but he would ask if we needed money for gas, a typical worry for a father who had raised three daughters. He never wanted us to run out of gas.

Dealing with Dad’s Alzheimer’s behaviors

Since it was harmless behavior, we didn’t do anything to extinguish it, although we made sure he never had more than $20 in bills. To try to change the behavior would only have created more stress and anxiety. What was helpful was to offer a hug as a sign of appreciation, or some humor: “Thanks Dad,” my sister would say. “I’ll use that for my face lift.” That always cracked him up and he’d stuff his money back in his wallet and say “Never!”

Nataly Rubinstein’s new book, Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias: The Caregiver’s Complete Survival Guide, lists 10 typical compulsive behaviors and how to deal with them. The important thing is that your response not make things worse.

Alzheimer’s and repetition: cherish it

When Dad told the same stories over and over, the son-in-laws used to actually bet on how many times Dad would repeat himself. I guess it made their visits less boring, but I was not a fan of that as it bordered on ridicule even though they would never have hurt Dad’s feelings intentionally.

I grew to love the stories because I wanted to really remember them after Dad was gone–not just the subject– but the way he told them and the words he used. But I can appreciate how tedious it was for my mom to listen to the same things endlessly.

When Dad would repeat “Isn’t your mom the most beautiful woman in the world,” it irritated Mom because he had not said it enough when she was younger and would have appreciated a genuine compliment. But we could see in dad’s eyes–actually he was legally blind, so it was really coming from his heart–that he believed what he said.

Later, we were glad we had all those comments stored up for when Dad began to say “She’s not my wife.” It was abundantly clear that he loved Mom deep inside where it mattered.

Posted in Alzheimer’s, Dementia | 4 Comments »
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4 Comments to “Coping with the compulsive behaviors of Alzheimer’s”

  1. Judy

    Thanks for reading and sharing.

  2. Helen

    Judy Kirkwood treated such a difficult topic beautifully and with humor — which thank goodness lightens the load on caregivers.

  3. maggie p

    What a gift of history you are giving your family with the personal accounts of your mom and dad in the later stages of their lives and having to deal with dementia and alzheimers.

  4. Lila

    Beautiful piece! Thanks for sharing and writing in such a heartfelt way!

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