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When a Senior with Alzheimer's Acts Distant

by Carole Larkin, Alzheimer's & Dementia Expert
June 11, 2015

Question: I just moved to another city, far away from my mother who suffers from Alzheimer’s. With all the transitions that have been going on with mother, I haven't been calling so that she can she can get settled in and be less agitated. That being said, she didn't sound happy to hear from me. She sounds quite indifferent and is clinging to my bother who lives closeby. What can you suggest for me to do when I talk to her?

Answer: What you are identifying is called emotional blunting, flatness or apathy, not dislike. That is common in the disease. It has nothing to do with her feelings for you personally. It has everything to do with the deterioration in her frontal lobes. Sometimes these changes in affect are lumped together in the term “personality changes”. People can and do go from sweet to mean, and vice versa, as well as begin showing all kinds of different affects never exhibited before. Men and women who were pastors and pastors’ wives begin swearing like sailors. You just never know what’s going to show up because it’s different with each person, and the affects themselves can change over the course of the disease. Deep into the disease many people become almost still, as their focus turns from external stimuli (what they see, hear, feel, taste, etc) to solely internal stimuli (what is going on in their mind).

As for clinging more tightly to your brother, because he’s there, well yes, kind of. People with this disease live in “this moment” more and more. They can’t remember the past, and can no longer project the future, so the only thing that is important to them is “this moment”. Yes, your brother is here and he interacts with her in the here and now, so of course she’s more dependent on him. Again, it has nothing to do with you personally; it’s just a function of location, location, location.

The more you learn about how Alzheimer’s affects the people with it, and how you can better react to its challenges to your traditional relationship with your mother, and adjust your viewpoint of her and of your communication with her. Know this, it has nothing to do with you, and really isn’t about you. It’s so hard for us to get outside ourselves and try and view the world from the viewpoint  of the person with the disease, but that’s exactly you’ve got to do to keep yourself from falling into the emotional traps of anger, guilt, shame and all the other negative emotions that arise in family members of people with Alzheimer’s.

I found a small paperback which is of enormous help in combating these negative emotions. I consulted it almost daily during the early stages of my journey of caregiver daughter of my mother with Alzheimer’s disease. I recommend it to all my clients’ spouses and children who are struggling with a loved one with the disease. The title of the book is: “Coping with Alzheimer’s: A Caregiver’s Emotional Survival guide.” It is written by rose Oliver and Frances Bock. It’s available on I strongly suggest you get it. It’s beyond wonderful!

Carole Larkin MA, CMC, CAEd, QDCS, EICS is a geriatric care manager who specializes in helping families with Alzheimer’s and related dementias issues. She also trains caregivers in home care companies, assisted livings, memory care communities, and nursing homes in dementia specific techniques for best care of dementia sufferers. Her company, ThirdAge Services LLC, is located in Dallas, TX.

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