Understanding Your Loved One's Personality Traits

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • As dementia strengthens its grip on Mom and the other retirement community residents, each resident’s core personality characteristics seem to be amplified. The nursing home staff has figured out how to work with each person in an effective way, sometimes because of and sometimes in spite of this dominant personality characteristic. These are good lessons that can help family caregivers determine how to work with loved ones.

    For instance, one resident used to work in sales in a local store. When you stop to visit with her now, she almost always displays the charm and accommodating manner of someone who spent a large part of her life helping other people make decisions concerning what they will buy. “How are you, darling?” she’ll ask graciously when you stop to visit her. Most days she will be smiling and will want to be around people. She almost always seems to be willing to do whatever the nursing staff asks of her.
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    My mother is the complete opposite. After visiting Mom last week, I stopped to talk to the activity director and the social worker. They asked what my mother did professionally. I told them that she started her professional life as a high school teacher. “That explains a lot,” they said, noting that Mom displayed the tendency to want control of a situation (much like a teacher wants control of the classroom). I responded that Mom also ran a small business for approximately 20 years. They started laughing; I quickly asked why. It turns out that Mom often sits outside their offices in her wheelchair and “supervises” their work. If they didn’t do their tasks to Mom’s liking, Mom will tell them that they’re fired.

    I quickly apologized, but they just laughed and said it was part of their jobs. Both of these staff members realize that if they give Mom the impression that she is in control, they will have better luck getting her to do the necessary things for her own well-being.

    And in my mind, that’s the ultimate goal when you are working with someone with Alzheimer’s Disease. You have to determine how to work with the loved one’s dominant personality trait (whether it’s a need for control like my Mom or a need for companionship like the other resident) in order to make sure that your loved one gets the care that he or she needs.
Published On: October 27, 2006