If you have a family member with narcissistic personality disorder, you’re familiar with the erratic, toxic, and abusive behaviors the disorder can cause. As the person ages, you might wonder whether their behavior will improve or worsen. One particularly big concern for families of narcissists is Alzheimer’s disease. Dementia can dramatically change someone’s personality as the cognitive decline progresses. In people with narcissism, Alzheimer’s disease can create some unique challenges.
Alzheimer’s disease is a painful diagnosis for individuals and their families. To a narcissist, the disease is especially devastating. You should know how the aging process affects a narcissist and how Alzheimer’s disease can influence their behavior.
How Aging Affects Narcissism
Narcissistic personality disorder is a lifelong condition. It’s unlikely that a narcissist will soften with age. In many cases, narcissistic abuse worsens as the individual gets older.
Decrease in Independence
A loss of independence is a natural part of the aging process. Seniors often need more assistance with self-care, household chores, or other tasks. To an aging narcissist, a decline in independence feels like a loss of power. They don’t want to be seen as vulnerable, and they don’t want others to see them struggling. Your narcissistic relative may lash out even more than usual as they reach this stage.
Resistance to Care
Managing medical needs for an aging narcissist can be especially difficult. Some narcissists are highly resistant to care and will refuse to follow medical advice from their doctors. Narcissists believe that they know best, and if they have an unfavorable opinion of their doctor, they won’t comply with treatment. This makes caregiving even more of a challenge for family.
Increased Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease
Research suggests that narcissists are at a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. The link between narcissism and Alzheimer’s disease isn’t completely clear, but it may be caused by the long-term effects of narcissistic personality disorder on the brain. Narcissism develops in childhood as a dysfunctional coping mechanism for abuse or neglect, which could have an impact on overall cognitive function.
What Happens When a Narcissist Gets Alzheimer’s?
A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is devastating for anyone, but it’s particularly horrifying for a narcissist. If your narcissistic loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, they may go to great lengths to hide their condition. As the symptoms start to show, they might react with extreme rage and abusive behaviors.
The Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s disease progresses over time. In the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, the signs and symptoms may be very subtle. At first, a narcissist’s reaction to their cognitive decline is often more noticeable than the cognitive decline itself. They can become especially agitated, impatient, and aggressive.
As symptoms start to interfere more with their daily functioning, an aging narcissist may try to withdraw from family or friends. They don’t want anyone to see them struggling, so they isolate themselves to avoid embarrassment. This strategy doesn’t usually work for long, though. Alzheimer’s disease will continue to progress until they need frequent support from others.
At this point, the narcissist may try to deflect by blaming others. Narcissistic abuse can reach a peak as your relative starts to require full-time care. They hate for others to see them in this vulnerable position, so they lash out intensely. Your family member may also fixate on stories of their past accomplishments.
Narcissists are at a high risk of suicide when their Alzheimer’s disease progresses to the point that they can no longer care for themselves. If your relative has reached this stage, you should be extremely watchful for signs of suicidality. Don’t hesitate to reach out for professional support if you’re concerned for your family member.
Delusions can become very severe in the later stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Your family member may struggle to find the distinction between fiction and reality. They may believe that you or others are trying to hurt them, so the angry outbursts can become even more intense. Most people with Alzheimer’s disease will require full-time care in a skilled nursing facility.
A Glimpse into Their True Self
The later stages of Alzheimer’s disease are incredibly painful for the individual and their family. Even if you had a turbulent relationship with your narcissistic family member, watching their decline can bring up some complicated emotions.
However, this stage of the disease can also give you a glimpse into who your relative would have been without their narcissism. People develop narcissistic personality disorder as coping mechanism for their deepest vulnerabilities. Alzheimer’s disease will eventually strip this coping mechanism away, and you may briefly see the person underneath.
Some family members feel a sense of healing when they finally see the person behind the narcissism. This experience can help you develop a sense of compassion for your relative that may make caregiving easier. Others find this experience to be emotionally devastating, though. Taking care of your mental health as you witness the progression of Alzheimer’s disease is essential.
The Importance of Self-care for Caregivers
Anybody who cares for a relative with Alzheimer’s disease needs to take care of their own health. Caregiving is mentally and emotionally taxing, and you have to care for yourself in order to care for others.
If your family member is also a narcissist, you have to be especially compassionate with yourself. Narcissism wreaks havoc on families. After so many years of experiencing the toxic behavior, you probably have emotional wounds to work through. Seeing your family member decline as they age can make this even more complicated. If the experience is weighing too heavily on you, lean on your loved ones for support. Working with a therapist to process your emotions can be very helpful, too.
Blue Moon Senior Counseling offers counseling for seniors with personality disorders and other mental health concerns. Counseling for seniors is a valuable opportunity to check in with your mental health and address any concerns you have as you age. If you or an aging loved one needs support, please reach out to us to learn more about how counseling for seniors can help.