How to Deal with Stubbornness in an Alzheimer’s Patient


If you are a primary caregiver for an Alzheimer’s patient, you know how difficult it can be to provide excellent care and support around the clock. Many Alzheimer’s patients go through stubborn phases and make it extremely difficult for you to do your job.

The vast majority of unwillingness happens during intimate activities the patient has been accustomed to doing on his or her own most of their life. These activities include using the bathroom, bathing, and dressing. However, more serious reactions can also occur because of sudden changes in environment or family stressors.

While these negative reactions can have a toll on caregivers (especially family member caregivers), it is important to not take these events personally. It is not about you in these situations and more often than not, stubbornness is a result of fear or anxiety in the Alzheimer’s patient. They may not be trying to be difficult, and the resistance is instead a form of communication when words fail them. If you are open to their various forms of communication, you can find the root cause of the resistance and help them through it more comfortably.

The following are some helpful tips on how to more effectively deal with stubbornness in your loved one.

  • Allow the patient as much autonomy in daily tasks as possible. Much of the frustration in Alzheimer’s patients come from losing the ability to perform basic daily tasks. If you are caring for your parent, it may be based on their having taught you how to perform these tasks when you were a child. This loss of ability can lead to stubbornness when you try to step in and do the tasks for them. When possible, let your loved one perform intimate or basic tasks on their own. This can reduce stress and frustration for both parties.
  • Use a diary to note events when your loved one was resistant. Keeping a log of what happened leading up to times of stubbornness can help you track patterns in the Alzheimer’s patient. By updating this log, you can take steps to avoid the triggering events for your loved one. Each person is different and resistant to certain tasks, activities, or chores. Noting resistance can not only help you avoid triggering these events but can also help you gain a better understanding of the person in your care. This understanding can lead to more patience on both parties’ sides and improve the caretaker-patient bond.
  • Try to figure out if there is something the patient needs that they are not getting. If you ask your loved one with Alzheimer’s to do something and you meet resistance, it may be because they need something else and cannot verbalize it. If you ask them to get dressed, they may instead need to use the bathroom but cannot express it. Instead of becoming frustrated (which is sometimes easier said than done), you can try to provide other options to get to the heart of the issue. Perhaps suggesting getting dressed in the bathroom will illuminate to your loved one what they actually need and can facilitate the end goal much more easily.
  • Remove your personal emotion from the situation and try to be objective. Stubbornness, especially from a loved one, can be extremely frustrating. When that difficulty is accompanied by angry words or emotions from the patient, it can feel terrible. Remembering that they are not trying to hurt you and actually suffer from a degenerative brain disease can help you stay objective and remove your personal feelings from the situation. Staying objective can help with the steps mentioned above as well as in identifying what your loved one actually needs instead of lashing out at them in return.
  • Ask for help from other family members or outside sources when necessary. If the resistance or stubbornness becomes overwhelming, it is okay to ask for help. Asking for this help from other family members is an option, even if it comes with some baggage. Family members have often trusted sources of confidence and love for your ailing parent and can provide a comforting helping hand to you and them. If the family is not an option, hiring outside help, or seeking help from a volunteer service in your area are available to you. These sources can provide professional help and use alternative problem-solving methods to help your loved one through a, particularly stubborn time.

Stubbornness in an Alzheimer’s patient can be difficult to handle. If that patient is an aging parent or family member, it can be even harder. The most important thing to remember is that the patient is not trying to hurt you or be difficult on purpose. There is most likely an underlying cause of the stubbornness they cannot express.

It may be up to you to identify that cause and reduce stubbornness triggers moving forward. It can be extremely trying, but finding ways to work with the patient and improve communication can also be very rewarding.