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Carol Bradley Bursack, Published July 24 2011

Bursack: Alzheimer’s can make kind people violent

Dear Carol: My husband has mid-stage Alzheimer’s. He’s always been a wonderful man, but the disease has changed him, and he’s become violent. After he hit me in the face, I needed eye surgery. Even after this event, my children fight the idea of placing him in assisted living. How do I convince them that things need to change? – Andrea

Dear Andrea: I’m assuming that your husband’s doctor knows about his violent behavior and has done whatever can be done as far as medications are concerned.

You don’t say how close your children live to you, but it doesn’t sound as though they are helping you with the caregiving. Tell them their father needs specialized help and it’s no longer safe for you to care for him alone. I’m sure it’s extremely painful for your kids to think that their kind father hit their mother, but they are hiding from reality if they are not supporting you.

Have you tried a family meeting? If not, please consider having one. If necessary, you can do this by phone, but an in-person meeting would be best. Have information ready for your kids. If they haven’t researched Alzheimer’s, send them a link to the Alzheimer’s Association at www.alz.org and mark special sections on the site if that would help.

Get pamphlets from local assisted living facilities that have memory units for Alzheimer’s patients. If necessary, ask a third party such as a social worker or clergy person to help you with this meeting. Please call the Alzheimer’s organization in your community, as well.

Be very clear to your kids that you are not blaming their father, that you still love him, and that you know it’s the disease that has changed him. Impress upon them how terrible their father must feel about his hurting you, or would feel if he could understand. Also, be clear that you can’t endanger your well-being any longer.

Of course you want your children to understand and support you in this heartbreaking situation. Their help would be invaluable to you. But this is your decision to make. Consider the fact, too, that you can be a more giving wife in many ways if you are not the full-time, physical caregiver.

You can visit your husband refreshed from sleep. You’ll have support and social outlets. The confusion and fear that comes with living with Alzheimer’s disease can change the most gentle person’s personality, so this is not his fault. Getting the right help for your husband is the best move for him, as well as for you.

Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at www.mindingourelders.com.