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BEACON Senior News - Western Colorado

Caregivers Support: It's not funny anymore

Jul 24, 2023 03:00PM ● By Laird Landon

Dear Laird: My husband was a professional comedian on the club circuit. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s pretty early at 63. He is now in the middle stage and is losing it quickly. The problem is that his recall of his show business days is still quite good, and he recites his routines to me or anyone within earshot. We are losing friends because of this and I am left with nonstop 20-year-old jokes and a difficult caregiving job. Can you tell me anything that might help me deal with this? Signed, Marie

Dear Marie: Social isolation is a significant problem for caregivers for many reasons. Sometimes it’s because people don’t know what to say, we are exhausted or the loved one we’re caring for is difficult to control. Not in your case, but often the person with dementia worries they will say the wrong thing. For each of these reasons, staying in the house seems safer. 

Repetitive behaviors are common in middle-stage brain failure. As short-term memory fades, our loved ones cannot remember new information, so they repeat questions like “What time is it?” and “Is it time to go yet?” Or they repeat other familiar things like events from the past. 

Distractions may be helpful, so try changing the subject. Offer him a favorite snack or turn on the TV. It might work to put something in his hands and ask for help with it. You might try ignoring him and seeing if he realizes you are not interested. You can even leave the room. Do not try to squelch the behavior—it probably can’t be done and will frustrate you both. It’s not him that is misbehaving socially. It’s him trying to interact the only way the disease will let him.

Think of entering his world. Being a comedian is still a part of who he is. See if playing along with laughter quenches his need for attention and approval. He doesn’t know you have heard the jokes before.

It might help to tell your friends about new behaviors. Find the ones who are sympathetic and want to help. Invite a few friends at a time to visit and let them know what to expect. They will be on your team and not respond as offended guests. He will have an audience, which is a concept he can grasp from his past.

In a public space, manufacture a reason to move. Walking to a new place may interrupt the comic routine. If you’re going out to dinner, you might call ahead and ask for an out-of-the-way table because of his dementia. 

While repetitive behavior is disconcerting now, in six months it will probably decline. People with dementia, at some point, lose interest in others. They will remember who you are, but only care about what you can do for them. This is no fun either, but please understand the disease continues to change their behavior and even who they are.

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Send your questions to Laird in care of the BEACON or email him at [email protected]

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