To Manage Dementia Well, Start with the Caregivers

When Kate Sieloff’s husband, Karl, began acting strange, she didn’t know where to turn. Her hard-working, affectionate spouse was suddenly having fits of anger and aggression. He stopped paying the bills. Karl, 56 at the time, was an engineer at General Motors, where he’d worked for more than 40 years. But some days he didn’t even show up for work, finding it too hard to get out of bed.

Because the problems were sporadic, most people in her life couldn’t see what was going on. They told Kate, of Romeo, Mich., that she was imagining things. Doctors suggested that Karl was depressed and tried him on a variety of medications. When he began depleting their savings on impulsive purchases, and grew even more aggressive and violent, her son—a neurologist at the University of Michigan’s medical center in Ann Arbor—insisted she bring Karl to his hospital for evaluation. Doctors there quickly diagnosed him with frontotemporal dementia.

For Kate, the diagnosis was a relief, but she still felt overwhelmed and needed help coping with her husband’s illness. Getting his diabetes medications under control, and starting him on a mood stabilizer and a new antidepressant helped control his mood swings while restoring some of his loving personality.

Image: Hanna Barczyk for NPR