My father has Alzheimer’s and is abusive to many of us, including my mother, who lives with him. How can we help her?

Even if an abuser has Alzheimer’s disease and can’t control his temper because of it, it is still difficult to put up with. But you can’t take it personally. 

If his behavior is merely an extension of the way he used to treat people, you at least know what is happening. But if it’s a full personality change, it understandably could come as a shock. It will likely signal a period of mourning, where you will have to come to a point of acceptance that there has been a dramatic change.

 

Give your mother breaks since she is otherwise with him all of the time. It might mean hiring someone to come in and be with him, or using an adult day care center, or having family members rotate in. But you must realize that your mother needs breaks. The odds are he will act differently with non-family members. However, if he still verbally abuses home care workers or staff at the adult day care center, you have a bigger problem. Then, it might be time to get the doctor involved. See if the doctor has any suggestions — he might suspect depression or anxiety is in play and prescribe something for it accordingly. Often, Alzheimer’s patients act out due to an underlying cause such as depression, anxiety or pain. 

You also can deal with this volatile situation with humor. You can’t control how your father acts out, but you can control your responses. The staff at one adult day care center simply refers to harsh words or verbal abuse as its “terms of endearment.”

 

You also might want to openly acknowledge your father’s feelings to him. This could lessen his frustration level. A person with Alzheimer’s loses so much independence, he may rail against those nearest to him, especially if he’s receiving different sets of advice or orders from different people. 

Would-be advice givers need to be careful that they offer suggestions and directions in a non-threatening way. If your father resists, don’t press him and go back to the topic later. After an informal cool-down period, you may have better luck. To have success, you should also not talk down to him. He’s an adult and has his own personal history of independence and success. That should not be discounted. Your father will sense if he is being treated differently.

 

Another solution for you caregivers is to join a support group. Very often, there will be others in a group with the same or similar problems. They can either give you successful strategies or simply the comfort and understanding that you need to know you’re not alone in this battle. You and your mother also should journal feelings and frustrations about your dad’s behavior. By dealing with your feelings, you’re better able to help your father.  To find a support group near you click here.