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Understanding Alzheimer's & Dementia

You are not alone trying to understanding Alzheimer's and dementia
You may find Alzheimer's disease or dementia confusing to you because your loved one may seem as healthy as ever, although they are acting differently.

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Dementia is the loss of cognitive functioning and intellectual reasoning due to changes in the brain caused by disease. Those with dementia tend to repeat questions, become disoriented in familiar places, neglect personal hygiene or nutrition, or get confused about people or time. It can be caused by many things, some of which are reversible – such as vitamin deficiencies and poor nutrition, to reactions to medications or problems with the thyroid. However, some forms of dementia are irreversible, such as that caused by mini strokes or Alzheimer's.

Alzheimer's disease occurs when the nerve cells deteriorate in the brain due to a build up of plaques and tangles, which actually results in the death of a large number of brain cells. Doctors are not sure why this occurs, but research is underway to determine causes and cures. According to the Alzheimer's Association, 5.4 million Americans are presently living with Alzheimer's disease.

It is important to remember that Alzheimer's is a medical condition and disease of the brain. If the brain affects thoughts, feelings, personality, and behavior, then Alzheimer's is going to affect how your loved one thinks, what he feels, who he is, and what he does. The range of symptoms can be enormous. Also, people with Alzheimer's don't necessarily "look" sick. Although Alzheimer's disease is a physical illness, it often doesn't affect a person's appearance until the later stages of the disease. This might be confusing to you because your loved one may seem as healthy as ever, but just acting differently.

If you are caring for someone in this situation, you may find it helpful to read these tips on how to cope with Alzheimer's and dementia.

The more you know, the better your loved one's care will be. Free online training and expert tips at

Last revised: April 12, 2010

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Thoughts and stories from others
  1. August 5, 2019 at 1:38 am | Posted by Andrea Donivan

    My dad and I are shopping this week for a facility in which to place my mom. She is mean and spiteful to my dad and he is suffering from serious burnout. He is the same age as my mom but still is very active and has all his faculties. My parents have two cats which my mom adores. While I don’t want my dad to succumb to the stress of caring for my mom, I also worry how she will be when she is not able to see her cats each day. Will she miss them? Will she even remember them? I wonder if a facility is the best answer or keeping her home with 24 hour care is better so she can be in the company of her cats? I am a huge animal lover so I think maybe I’m projecting how I would feel onto my mom’s situation. I just don’t know how to approach all this.


    • December 4, 2019 at 3:05 pm | Posted by Nancy Rich

      I do not know where you live, but most Memory Care communities will allow pets, especially cats, since they do not have to be walked outdoors. I have worked in this field for many years and all have accepted animals except for one in Texas. You can even add to her care plan that the community empty the cat litter as needed, but of course ther is an additional fee for this.


  2. December 30, 2018 at 9:01 pm | Posted by C

    My father is 90 year old, military retiree. He has always been mean to the four oldest kids. The 5th is ok, the 6th is a spoiled brat even at 47. She always has an excuse for his behavior, dementia, etc. NO, THIS MAN HAS NOT CHANGED. He knows what he's doing. We have had to move him for the 4th time to AL, some has been because they were not incompliance, some he intimidates the workers (wonder why they're working there?)...our sweet mom passed away 6 years ago and endured years of mental and verbal abuse. I can try and let bygones by bygones but when he continues to be mean, I can't stand him. I still pay his bills and take care of what I'm supposed to...but honestly, I'm tired of hearing 'it's his dementia.' I need to get some counseling on how to take care of myself and draw boundaries. I have a 40 year old son with ID and he's a sweetheart, blessed that he's high level even tho he depends on me. It's scary cause a friend who has had stage 4 cancer, takes care of her two elderly parents, her two siblings don't help. The psychiatrist told her many times the caregivers die before the elderly one. Ugh, that's sad. Sorry for the long comment....but tired of the old "it's the dementia."


  3. November 19, 2017 at 4:31 am | Posted by SLW

    I'm a little late to the party but oh well. I care for an elderly dementia patient. She is one of the sweetest ladies I have ever met. And I have found that working with her is the best job I could ever have. I am with her over 40 hours a week. Yeah, some days are really tough and I go home and I'm completely exhausted and wore out but it's all worth it. She has her good days and her bad days. She recognizes me but most days she can't remember my name. She has a hard time putting names with faces.And she'll do a couple quirky things like try to wash her hands with a toothbrush. She forgets things within minutes and repeats herself often. I think some of the best moments are when she is watching ETWN or when I sing to her and she sings/talks along. I love it because it means she is bringing back memories. I just want every one to know who cares for or has a family member with dementia that it's going to be ok. Stay positive and cherish every moment. God bless.


  4. August 1, 2017 at 2:25 pm | Posted by mary rayner

    My husband of 55 also has dementia. He was diagnosed three years ago. He still appears normal to most, but has lost his sense of all numbers, time and geography... among other things. He was a CPA for years and can no longer work in his career. Luckily, he is managing a part time job at Home Depot for now, but I need to drive him there and back and keep his schedule. I also have to set an alarm on his phone so he knows when it's time to leave. The financial stress on my family has been hard. I often feel angry and depressed that my life ended up this way but also know that it will get much worse, so I try to enjoy the time while I have it.


  5. May 10, 2016 at 5:29 pm | Posted by Happy Day

    My mother started her spiral down when she broke her hip at 88. My mother is now 94. What a journey it has been! I kept her at home as long as I could with hired help until I could not handle her alone with no show or sick workers. Never say Never like I did about putting her into a facility. She is never left alone. I am visiting every day and she has her caregiver with her night and day . It is taking all the money that my parents saved. I pray it holds out until this journey is over. I feel the guilt of not keeping her at home but it came that point that I had to be sure someone was nearby to help me care for her. She is at the point they are talking hospice. To me I feel as if I will be giving up on my mother. I am so sad!!!!! When she is gone I will not be the same ever again.


  6. March 30, 2014 at 4:19 pm | Posted by Denise Barnette

    Hearing these stories does help. I am taking care of my mother in law full time and to say the least it is definitely a journey. Didn't really know to much about Alzheimer's before this and let me tell you it has been a learning experience. I think the hardest part is the constant mood changes and the selfishness and I feel bad for having those thoughts because I know its the disease and not her but she makes it very hard to take care of her. She is at the point where she needs constant care. We do not want to put her in a home. So we packed our things rented our house out and moved in with her but she is making it very hard with the when are we leaving she doesn't need help to becoming violent almost like she's paranoid we are trying to steal her home. Plus I have a ,11 year old daughter that I worry she's going to get violent with. We don't want to put her in home but can'tcontinue to live like tthis either. Plz any advice would be greatly welcomed.


    • May 29, 2014 at 5:13 pm | Posted by sandwich42

      What is wrong with a nursing home? My mom is in one where the staff are compassionate, she gets 3 dietetically correct meals (has come off her diabetes meds as a result), bathed, dressed, PT, and activities. I can't do that at my house. I also can't handle her when she acts out. The professional caregivers are trained to handle all of this. I am grateful every day mom is in a place like that and not my home. My home is not built or setup for dementia patient care. Her home is not an option, as it's out of state. Go visit some places in your area. Use your eyes, ears, nose, and brain to see what it's like just as if you were looking for baby daycare. Yes, you will see old people curled up in their bed and wheelchairs. This is part of the brain degeneration process, and not of the nursing home's doing. Yes, you might hear some people shrieking. This is part of dementia when the patient has no verbal ability any more. It's not them having their fingernails pulled out. Yes, you will smell barn odors. It's inevitable when there are numbers of adults pooping their pants at the same time. No, it won't feel exactly like home but a lot of them are very warm & cozy. Look for cleanliness of the people, tables, chairs, floors. Talk to the staff about their training and how long they've been there. Do they get in-service training to stay up to date? It might not be at all what you were thinking and deserves a fair chance.


      • February 11, 2016 at 11:03 am | Posted by Kay Noble

        Thanks for your comments. I agree nursing homes are not the huge monster people have built up in their minds. It is the right thing for many situations.


  7. January 3, 2012 at 9:49 am | Posted by Lynn Sherwin

    I am so thankful for this site, I care give to my Mother who is now 90 years 'young" I can so relate to everyones messages. The best days are those when she seems fine, physically, aka still breathing, (sorry) (but true) She still has her sharp wit, and sharp sence of humour, Unfortunately she becomes confused about where she is, daily, It is heart breaking, to watch, yet also an Honour to care for her. Our Doctor prescribed Risperidone, for the agitation she suffers, sometimes hostility. With out that medicine, it would be very hard to care for her. It's so sad, We live on the fifth floor of an apartment building, Yet still she 'sees' and hears people mocking her, spying on her. She does have the occasional visitor, usually children (in her mind) that she feeds, and covers, to keep them warm. Oh, sad but not harming anyone this delusion. I 'send the children home" when she needs her rest, This is the 'going to their reality part" of care giving. We sometimes laugh, if I saw, I will go after her tormentors and pick up a stick, She finds that hysterical. lol What else, to say? Nutrition feeding getting enough fluid into her. I use Ensure, daily, bottled water, I tell her it's special just for her, nice water with ice cubes, and a straw, or two, in a nice insulated cup. Jello, ice cream, pudding, soups, tea, coffee, everything and anything she will tolerate, and enjoy. I'm getting tired, My biggest concern is bathing her, I have ordered (FINALLY) a hand help shower, Used to dye her hair, (yep) (red) in a large bucket, Oh what a mess, but, she is always happy afterward. I still feel I don't DO ENOUGH for her. I am alone, and she won't allow Home Care. Maybe I can work on this, again. I have 'friends' who say put her in a Home, But I can't, I just can't. Has anyone here done this? How did it turn out? I sometimes feel I am depriving her of a better life. with people her age, 24 hour Nursing Care, PSW's Doctors on call. She was in Hospital two years ago, for leg ulcers, Doc said they would NEVER HEAL, but They Did, With the help of a Nurse, from I can't recall the agency. She came 3 times per week for one year, and healed my mothers legs. Amazing. Any way, Maybe I should save some more stuff for another visit. Thanks. Lynn


    • January 3, 2012 at 9:59 am | Posted by Cat Koehler

      What a wonderful daughter! Your mother is very lucky to have you. Caregiving isn't easy, and it seems the physical strain is the easy part. You ARE doing enough, don't beat yourself up. You need a break every once in a while. Maybe just a few hours a week to get out and do something just for you. You can talk to your local Home Instead office about some respite care. Many seniors are against the idea of having a "stranger" come in, but they quickly see how nice it is. Just remember that in order to really take care of your mother, you must first take care of yourself. Cat Koehler Home Instead


  8. May 21, 2011 at 10:23 pm | Posted by Vic

    I think we all need encouragement and support during this time. My dad has Parkinson's dementia and for support my parents both live in a small house behind mine. My mother is dad's caregiver but we help give her breaks on weekends, with food and shopping and we maintain the property. It's tiring we have a teenager active in sports and other activities, both of us work full time and sometimes I wish for the life I had before they moved here. However we know we're done the right thing, I would not want him Ina home at this stage. It isn't easy but I read others have guilt feelings when they admit this is hard, I don't focus on these feelings and try to take things one step at a time. We got away for vacation which wAs overdue and gave me some perspective on how much we all needed such break. I also understand how easy it can be to become resentful of siblings and there lack of understanding and not enough support. It's a hard situation and we all deserve credit doing this day to day. It has to be the most important job anyone can do. Please be patient with yourselves for being human !


  9. February 1, 2011 at 2:19 pm | Posted by Nelson

    My wife of 50 years was diagnosed with Alzheimer's last June but the symptoms of memory loss, confusion and difficulty forming sentences began to appear some 2 or 3 years before. Back then we didn't have a name for it and every time I brought up the subject my wife didn't want to talk about it. I think she may have been embarrassed to even discuss this with her Doctor. My wife has been an insulin-dependent Diabetic for more than 30 years and maintained her blood sugar very well until she had a serious drop in glucose during her sleep one night two years ago. She passed out and fell on the floor and had to go to the hospital in an ambulance. It was then that I discovered she had mixed up two different kinds of insulin due to her confusion. I started to take over maintaining her insulin and other medications afterward. Her one day stay in the hospital was to raise her body temperature because it had dropped to 90 degrees during her "crash" and while there they did a CAT scan on her head to check for injury. When I finally insisted on her seeing a doctor they did another CAT scan and she was examined by a neurologist and this doctor compared the two CAT scans and showed me the affect the Alzheimer's had on her brain. I have been retired for 9 years so I am always at home with her to care for her. I live with all of the problems she is going through. Some of them are funny and some are serious. My wife has a habit of relocating things from one place to another that causes household searches for many items. All of the teaspoons disappeared from the kitchen and I found them in her sock drawer in her bedroom. One day the lancet I use to draw a blood sample for the Glucometer disappeared when I needed it. I test her blood 4 times a day and that caused some panic when we couldn't find it so I had to rush to the drug store and buy a new one. Then after a complete search of the drawers in her bedroom I located the missing lancet plus three others that she used to have. My wife often walk around the house carrying her pocketbook with her and sometimes when I look inside I find some strange things she has packed away. She has also developed some strange habits of folding up pieces of paper towels and stacking them wrapped with a rubber band. I have found several of these little stacks in every drawer. The most disturbing behavior is her frequent habit of getting up in the middle of the night and getting dressed, then sitting in the living room in the dark. I fear that one night she will go for a walk outside and get lost. Luckily she seems to wake me up whenever she does this and the only problem is the loss of sleep but since I don't have to go anywhere this isn't too bad. We are basically living life one day at a time.


  10. January 21, 2011 at 1:33 pm | Posted by Pauline

    My husband was diagnosed in March 2010 it's a challenge each day .We are taking it one day at a time.The worse is night time because he is restless and will go from bed to bed trying to find a comfort zone. He is on a drug called Aricept which helps some but for how long we don't know.We have the support of our friends and family which really helps.I am reading The 36 Hour Day which is helpful. My prayers are with all the people going through this.


  11. January 18, 2011 at 3:36 am | Posted by jan

    very interesting woth the read! i realise their r people u must have know i did besides my mom, poor woman very sad ruthann


  12. December 14, 2010 at 2:31 pm | Posted by Holly

    I am totally astonished that my mother has gone down so fast with vascular dementia. Last spring she was driving and shopping and now she uses walker and has to be reminded to use it. She is forgetful and mixes her words up and gets easily confused. The stories I have read do help. Like showing them pictures like in above comment. For me, I am almost shocked that this has happened. I guess because of the progression of it was so fast. Sometimes she can say a whole sentence and other times make no sense at all. She has had four hospitalizations this year , chronic anxiety/depression, delirium due to meds and then she overdosed. CT scan say ischemic changes. She has constant caregiver now, of course. I just hope we have her on right medicine. Thanks for reading.


    • June 18, 2012 at 7:02 am | Posted by Kevin

      Alzheimer's disease can be very clnelhaging for famlies to cope with, especially since it can affect each individual differently. This website is easy to navigate and very helpful in providing information about Alzheimer's disease and how families can cope with this.


  13. September 13, 2010 at 8:45 am | Posted by lynne mccarthy

    I think the hardest and most tiring aspect of dealing with someone diagnosed with alzheimers is the repetition. I work at a senior home and several residents need constant reassurance,not only on a daly basis, but minute by minute. A gentleman, for instance, will come up to the desk and say "I don't know where I am, how did I get here?" He says this at least four times a day and yet has lived at the home for seven years. It can be so tiring, you might want to get angry because you have just answered the same question minutes ago, but there's not point. The only thing to do is to answer the question kindly, show pictures, sit down and talk, reminisce. Do this as many times as you need. And amazingly, memories come through and you can both have a good time bringing back all those memories even you may have forgotten about. Write a journal. Get the pictures out. Start a history of the person. Where they were born and when, where they went to school, what their parents names were, what they worked at, childhood friends and what they did for hobbies, where they went on holiday. You can remind them of these facts each time they ask. Sit and talk about these things over a cup of tea. Go for a walk. Sometimes, in our busy day, we find it hard to, in the middle of cooking dinner, perhaps, stop what we are doing and sit and talk, yet this is what makes every journey unique and even enjoyable. You aren't only reminiscing about their life but yours also. Comb their hair, do their nails. Choose clothes. What colour do you want on today? Older people forget where they are and what they are doing constantly; it doesn't mean they have alzheimers, just that they are 97 and getting forgetful. Remind them. Gentley coax out some memories. If they don't know how they spent their money, tell them it's okay, you'll figure it out. Don't argue. They'll have forgotten in five minutes anyway, until the next time they ask. You learn too. I love my job. It is the best job in the world. It is fulfilling and some of these old folks have stories you wouldn't believe hidden in their memories. One lady was involved in starting the United Appeal; another a bank manager overseas; another travelled all over the world. They have done so much.


  14. August 26, 2010 at 3:33 pm | Posted by Betty J. Hansen

    I need to be encouraged in my caring for husband who is on the Alzheimer journey. He is part of the research at Mayo Clinic.


    • February 29, 2012 at 11:56 am | Posted by Karen

      Your dear husband is so blessed to have you still by his side. Life partnership is a journey we can never know what will be around the next turn, can we? remember the good times daily and know the last leg of the journy may be steep but it leads upward.


    • June 21, 2012 at 5:05 pm | Posted by Betty Murchison

      Pray, pray, pray. Ask God to give you His calming presence and the wisdom to choose your words carefully. I, too, am caring for my husband who has Alzheimer's. His anger, explosive behavior was more difficult than the memory issues. His doctor finally put him on Zolov and that has made a lot of improvement. He still gets angry, but the violent behavior is no longer there. (At least so far!)


      • October 4, 2015 at 7:37 pm | Posted by Bonnie

        My husband of 51 years was recently diagnosed with Alzheimers. The worst part is his denial that he has the disease. He insists he is OK to drive. We have a weekly battle with this subject. He also has explosive behavior, which is causing problems at the Apartment complex where we live. He is also on Aricept, which has helped some. I don't want to put him in a nursing home, because most of the time he seems "normal", but I know there will come a time when the stress of being his caregiver will break me. I will do it as long as God wills me to do it.


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