Dementia does a number on the brain, creating unusual thoughts and behaviors. It helps to know ahead of time what these can be. As a caregiver of my husband who has Lewy Body Dementia, I have joined a couple online support groups. I have learned more from them and from a couple of books than I have from any of our doctors. Doctors don’t have the time to educate patients about complex possibilities that may or may not happen to them.
Often one of the early symptoms of LBD is hallucination. Interestingly, the things people see are usually not scary. They see small animals, children, or people who just sit and look at them. What they see is very real and vivid to them and they may or may not be aware that the visions aren’t really there. The advice I hear most often is that it can make the person anxious if the caregiver tries to argue them out of what they think they see. It is best to acknowledge that they see something, and then distract them.
I heard an interesting possible explanation of this at an LBD conference given by Mayo Clinic. It’s like a filter is missing or damaged in the LBD brain. The missing filter results in their dreams being very real and acted out when they are asleep (REM sleep disorder) and also allows dreams to sneak through when they are awake as hallucinations. I may not have explained the connection accurately, but there may be a connection between the two conditions of REM sleep disorder and hallucination – fascinating.
Hallucinations can also occur in the later stages of Parkinson’s Disease. My aunt has mentioned that she sees animals (cat, rabbit, etc…) once in a while but she knows they are hallucinations. It’s still distressing to her. The husband has not had hallucinations, or has not told me about them if he has…
These are beliefs or impressions that are not rational. Last summer the husband had delusions about electricity causing some of his symptoms. We went to surprising lengths to dispel his theories, which were many. (Read a bit about that here.) Nothing worked and he thought he would die quickly (and it would be my fault if I didn’t explore all possible remedies). Fortunately, that period passed and has not returned. I am grateful.
Delusions can be very distressing to all concerned, and as with hallucinations, it doesn’t work well to try to point out that the person is delusional.
It’s sometimes called “imposter syndrome”. People in the support groups have such stories about this. Usually the person with dementia is sure that their caregiver, or someone close to them who they recognize, has been replaced by an imposter who looks just like them. Often the caregiver deals with it by leaving the room and coming back as themselves. They report that they got rid of the imposter. It doesn’t always work. There are a lot of strange variations to this one. So blessed the husband does not have this problem!
Another common occurrence. At home there can be all kinds of problems and complaints, misbehavior, and general trouble which the caregiver has to deal with and tells others about. But when the others, usually family members or doctors, are present the person with dementia goes to great lengths to be normal. They put on a pretty effective act. Of course this causes others to doubt the caregiver’s word and that is frustrating. Not being believed sometimes means not getting the help the caregiver needs. We don’t have this problem either, thankfully.
I’ve mentioned this before, in my R post about rest. Some of the most desperate caregivers are those who have not been able to get their patient/loved one to go to sleep for numerous nights in a row. Of course they are exhausted. They have to be hyper vigilant that their person doesn’t leave the house (think special locks on the doors), try to drive the car (without a license) or make some unthinkable mess doing something they shouldn’t be doing. We don’t have to deal with this problem either.
My husband and I are noticing that he has been greatly improved since our bad month last summer. He has been given hope that his dementia can be reversed, largely through lifestyle changes and diet. We also pray and believe that God can heal. Something seems to be working and we are thankful for every good day.