We all sometimes leave an old hobby for a while to try something new, and we all sometimes get tired of work, family and social obligations. But someone with Alzheimer’s may exhibit more extreme signs of withdrawal from social, family and work activities:
A person with Alzheimer’s may start to remove themselves from hobbies, social activities, work projects or sports. They may have trouble keeping up with a favorite sports team or remembering how to complete a favorite hobby. They may also avoid being social because of the changes they have experienced.
Mom loved to sew, and she was very creative with a needle. She took pieces of favorite dress patterns and put them together in new and creative ways, and if she tired of an old blouse, she re-cut the neckline to give it a more up-to-date look. As her hands became twisted with arthritis and her mind became twisted with Alzheimer’s, she gave up using her sewing machine in favor of hand work like adding or removing shoulder pads or replacing missing buttons and snaps. But even this eventually became too much for her, especially after I “stole” her sewing scissors (see Part 7).
While Mom was in the house sewing, Dad was usually tinkering with the car or working on some other guy kind of project. When he wasn’t in the garage, he was working in the yard. As his dementia set in, he moved indoors and became a real couch potato, but he didn’t become completely idle. He developed a love for crossword puzzles. He solved the daily puzzle in the newspaper and filled in the rest of the day with the puzzle books he received for Christmas, birthdays and other special occasions. He stayed with his puzzles longer than Mom stayed with her reading and her solitaire (see Part 3), but the incomplete daily puzzles began to pile up, and his puzzle books became a mess of erasures and crossed out answers. I caught him more than once filling in the answers by looking at the solutions in the back of the book.
Mom and Dad enjoyed their small hobbies, but neither of them played sports of any kind. They were spectators, though. Dad liked to watch the Rangers, and they both loved the Dallas Cowboys. As time went on, she lost interest in the football game and spent more time watching me or Dad than the TV, but Dad enjoyed watching football until they moved into assisted living.
Mom and Dad were never very social except with family members, so it was hard to see a lot of change in this area. Phone calls from them became less frequent, and they found more and more excuses for staying home from church. They rarely went out of the house and sometimes didn’t go to the grocery store until the cupboard was completely bare. However, by the time they moved in with us, Mom had forgotten why she didn’t like to socialize, and with David and me as “security blankets,” they both began to enjoy attending church and going to church-related social events, especially if there was food involved.
So once again the bottom line is a matter of degree. An occasional spell of boredom or a weekend of cocooning now and then is not a problem, but when this kind of behavior becomes a way of life, it may be time to consult an expert. For more information about Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, contact the Alzheimer’s Association at 800.272.3900 or www.alz.org.