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Alzheimer`s Disease/Alzheimer's and pet "obsessions"


Hi, we live with my MIL in her own home with our 5 kids, dog and cats.  My MIL has her own cat but kept it locked in her room 24 hours a day (food bowls everywhere, water on the floor, overflowing litter trays and food on the bed, carpet, etc).  We insisted she let the cat out and removed it from her room.  It had been there, alone all day and night except for when MIL was asleep, that it became terrified of human contact and ran out of the house and now will only come to the steps to eat, and refuses to re-enter the house or be touched by anyone.  It did get close enough for my daughter to pick her up and give her to my MIL who proceeded to wrap it in a towel and keep it clutched tightly on her lap for hours.  We eventually had to physically remove the cat so it could escape again.  She asks repeatedly for her cat, leaves her walker behind and wanders the house looking for her cat, etc.  We also have our own cats who are very friendly and allow her to pet them but she is now starting to model the same behaviour, grabbing and tightly holding them until they yowl and scratch to get away.  She also feeds them her meals instead of eating it herself and tries to sneak cats into her room but we try to monitor this.  We understand she wants to provide love and attention to a cat and it is difficult as she is a great animal lover but seems to be losing the skills of how to appropriately take care of animals.  Do you have any suggestions?  She is early to middle stage AD, no day/time orientation, has started forgetting deaths of friends, etc, and has lots of de ja vu, does not initiate feeding herself if she is hungry etc.  I don't know if a stuffed animal will do the trick when we have live animals in the house that she focuses on.  Do you have any suggestions and has anyone else gone through this?  It's distressing to us to have to take the cats out of her arms and she becomes upset and angry when we do, even though we are trying to protect the obviously distressed animals.

Hello Lucinda:  Thank you for your question.  I can see that you not only love your MIL, but you also love your animals so I'm sure it's very distressing to have her hurting them.  I think the idea of a stuffed cat would be a good thing to try.  You have no idea if she will think it's real or not, but maybe if you get a good quality one and place it in her room when she's not looking, she will believe it's real and treat it as such.  If she recognizes it's fake, that's fine, it can still be in her room and she may come to think it's real as her dementia progresses. If she does treat it as real, then everyone in the family must also do so by petting it and speaking to it in the same manner.  It would be great if you could find one that looks similar to her own cat.    
It's not unusual for elders with dementia to focus on animals, but unfortunately they no longer recognize that they cannot adequately care for them, nor can they be trusted not to hurt them.  Think of a 1 or 2 year old child and how they don't know yet how to appropriately hold or clutch an animal.  Her brain damage no longer allows her to remember this.  
As far as keeping the other cats away from her, that's a bit more of a problem.  I suspect that as the cats learn from a painful encounter with her, they will keep their distance from her and she will not be able to get ahold of them.  I would suggest you don't feed her cat where she can see it.  Out of sight, out of mind would be best here.  Every time she sees it, she will want it and become upset that she cannot have it.  
Since she obviously loves cats, think about getting a video for her to watch.  Check out The Alzheimer's Store at and you'll find videos of all puppies, or kittens or babies playing.
I wish you much luck Lucinda as you continue to care for your dear mother-in-law and your pets.  Cindy  

Alzheimer`s Disease

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Cindy Keith, RN, BS, Certified Dementia Practitioner


As a nurse and dementia consultant, I can answer most questions on all types of dementia. If I cannot answer your question, I will attempt to find someone who can. My passion is to help caregivers of people with dementia, which in turn helps all those wonderful elders with dementia live better lives. When caregivers are better educated, they are able to better care for themselves and their loved ones, so education is key to decreased stress levels and healthier, happier families.


I have worked as a nurse in various disciplines of nursing for over 20 years, most of which was with the elderly. I was a health care coordinator in a dementia dedicated assisted living facility for 4 years before I started my own business (M.I.N.D. in Memory Care) as a dementia consultant six years ago. As a dementia consultant, I help families nationwide through phone conference calls as they struggle to care for their loved ones with dementia.

Alzheimer's Foundation of America Geriatric Interest Network Sigma Theta Tau International

Published "Love, Laughter, & Mayhem - Caregiver Survival Manual For Living With A Person With Dementia" which is a collection of stories about people with dementia I have known, loved and worked with. Every story has a lesson to teach and this book gently teaches family caregivers lessons about how to better care for their loved one, as well as themselves during their caregiving journey. Published "Love, Laughter, & Mayhem In Eldercare Facilities: The Master Key For Dementia Training" Created "Bringing Nurturing To Memory Care" staff dementia training video Created Ebook: "Hair Stylist's Helpful Tips For Working With People With Alzheimer's & Other Dementias"

Registered Nurse with Bachelor's degree in Nursing; Certified Dementia Practitioner; Author of 2 books and an ebook

Awards and Honors
Sigma Theta Tau National Honor Society of Nursing

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