The Fine Art of Distraction



This post discusses unusual behaviors caused by Alzheimer’s disease and how to respond

My mom was up, dressed and ready to go to church.  On the surface, that seems like a good thing.  However, it was Tuesday morning!  But she was determined to go.  She had her purse in hand, coat over her arm and “no” was not an option.

I tried explaining that it was Tuesday and that we had already gone to church on the weekend.  I tried to show her the calendar, that didn’t work either.  Finally, in desperation, I firmly looked at her and said, “Mom, I am NOT taking you to church. It’s Tuesday!”  She looked at me, didn’t say a word and proceeded towards the front door.  By this time, my throat was aching, my head was throbbing and my eyes were burning.  I wasn’t fighting the tears because of my lack of understanding; I was fighting them because this moment in time helped me to understand how sick she really was.  I was in the heat of the battle against Alzhiemer’s disease and I was losing.  As she pushed past me in the hallway, determined to go to church, it hit me that I didn’t know her and she didn’t know me.  We had been close my whole life and now, our relationship was reduced to an argument about attending church on Tuesday morning.  I had to think fast.  She was heading for the door and I didn’t want to physically restrain her. 

She walked to the end of the hallway, to the front door, turned and headed up the stairs to get the baby who was crying.  Now, that presented another set of problems, but at least she was distracted from her original plan of going to church.

So, how DO you handle these episodes? What DO you do when grandma wants to take her clothes off in the mall or grandpa insists that the little boy in the grocery store is HIS son? Or, Lord forbid, uncle goes for the car keys.  My mother provided at least one answer.  DISTRACTION.

Although logic almost never works, something more important than the original idea almost always works.  Church was important, but a crying baby was more important.  The interesting thing though is it doesn’t have to be important to you, just to them at the time.  Here are some of my favorite distractions.

Laundry-I used to take wash cloths and towels out of the closet, put them in a laundry basket and give them to my mom to fold.  For some reason, laundry was important.

Snacks-My mom was a small woman, but she liked to eat.  Usually the offer of some bread and butter (she loved bread), a slice of her favorite dessert, or a cup of postum (coffee substitute) or herbal tea would be enough to get her mind going in another direction.

Dishes-They probably won’t get done the way that you would do it, but if it works, then you can clean them properly later.

Walk-Unfortunately, this was the first of many incidents.  There were times that I’d say, okay, let’s go (wherever she wanted to go) and we’d go outside and walk the neighborhood till she got tired and forgot where we were supposed to be going.

Drive-A long drive works wonders and I have taken many of them.  The ride will calm both of you.

Conversation-Talk about anything that may be a distraction, weather, an old movie, the children, politics.  Just try to get another thought process going.

If you are away from home and can’t use laundry or dishes try these tips:

  • Have someone ring your cell phone and tell grandpa it’s for him
  • Try singing an old favorite song and getting your loved one engaged. You might look odd, but not as odd as standing next to a naked grandma in the mall.
  • If you are in the mall or grocery store, offer a snack or bottle of water or juice. It may be just enough distraction to get you outside and into the car. 

Most of all, YOU have to remain calm and keep your wits.  Remember, the disease will work in your favor because often, once you distract dad, he may go on to some other strange behavior, but he won’t remember the initial one.

This is not a comprehensive list.  Please share your suggestions and thoughts. 

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NOTE: The contents in this blog are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or a substitute for professional care. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before making changes to any existing treatment or program. Some of the information presented in this blog may already be out of date.
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