Recalculating

Have you ever wondered why people with Alzheimer’s or Dementia suddenly have a “good” day? It is common for a person with cognitive disabilities to fluctuate with their symptoms. These changes can happen minute by minute, hour by hour, or day by day. It is very unpredictable. Why are they so bad one day and not so bad the next?

The family may think: “Mom is getting better- she doesn’t have Alzheimer’s!” “The Doctor must have diagnosed her wrong, her memory is fine today”. Others often think that the person is being lazy or stubborn. Spouses, in particular, will often feel that their loved one is just being lazy because he could do this task yesterday. People with dementia or cognitive problems are not being lazy. It is not a choice to be able to make that connection in the brain. The truth is, that once the brain damage has occurred, it is permanent. Our brains have about 100 billion neurons with branches that connect at more than 100 trillion points. These neurons help us to retrieve stored memories, and signals our thoughts and feelings. Alzheimer’s disease destroys these neurons. 

So why do we experience “good” days and “bad” days? Why can they perform a particular task one minute and not the next? If you think of the neurons in the brain as a very complex road map of streets and intersections and suddenly a bridge is out, consider what your GPS does. It recalculates! Your GPS will attempt to find a detour, and so will your brain.

Occasionally the brain will be able to reroute or recalculate and find an alternative route through the billions of neurons to retrieve the information and successfully perform the task. The brain is remarkable and will attempt to find a back door to get that information if at all possible. Some days it works, and some days it doesn’t. It is vital that families are patient with those suffering from dementia. Slow things down. Make sure you are giving them enough time to process the information.

One of the most common mistakes people make is that caregivers are not giving the person enough time. Simplifying the task can also be immensely helpful. Giving the person one step at a time can help to not overwhelm them. Lower those expectations. They are not being lazy or stubborn. Remember that this person has brain damage. They want to please you. They want to do what you are asking them to do. So, when someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia is having a great day, that is just what it is. A great day.

As a former trainer for the Alzheimer’s Association and over a decade of experience, Debra Kostiw offers her expertise to all the families that she serves. Extending little tips and ideas to make life easier for everyone is her passion. In most cases Debra will be able to explain to families what the person with dementia is experiencing and why. This one-on-one training is invaluable to her clients at No Place Like Home Senior Care. 

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