Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Catastrophic Reaction

In August my daughter, Mum and I went to Thredbo to see the snow. We stayed in a cabin in the bush. It was really nice and I thought Mum would enjoy it. The first night we lit the campfire then I went inside and asked Mum if she'd had her shower yet as I wanted to hang out the towel to dry. It had only been about four minutes since I last saw her and I was just reminding her to have a shower. But she got really angry and accused me of thinking she was dirty. "You think I never have a shower! You are nasty!" she shouted. I made the mistake of asking for the wet towel. She couldn't produce it, and got absolutely furious. She screamed and sobbed. She went into my room and lay on my bed crying and crying, saying "You hate me! You never believe me!" My daughter and I were absolutely dumbstruck. She wouldn't come out of my room and she wouldn't stop, so I said to my daughter, "I can't take this, I'm going to take the car into town and find a motel." My daughter said "Don't leave me alone with her! She's horrible!"

We went out for a long walk, leaving her there, and by the time we got back she was sitting at the kitchen table. She demanded to have a 'talk' with us about our terrible behaviour. My daughter managed to distract her by turning on the TV and changing the subject.

It was terrible, uncontrollable and frightening. I didn't know what had happened until I got home and found on the internet a description of a 'catastrophic reaction':

Some people with dementia overreact to a trivial setback or a minor criticism. This might involve them screaming, shouting, making unreasonable accusations, becoming very agitated or stubborn, or crying or laughing uncontrollably and inappropriately. This tendency to overreact is part of the illness and is called a catastrophic reaction.

Sometimes a catastrophic reaction is the first indication that makes relatives aware of the dementia. It may be a passing phase, disappearing as the condition progresses, or it may go on for some time. Some causes of catastrophic behaviour include:

. Stress caused by the excessive demands of a situation
. Frustration caused by misinterpreted messages
. Another underlying illness.

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