Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia, and for the narcissist, it can be particularly devastating. Narcissists use their intellect to manipulate the people in their life so they can keep that narcissistic supply flowing. When they start to experience cognitive deficits from Alzheimer’s, it can be terrifying for them because it puts them at risk of having their true self exposed for the world to see.
In the early stage of Alzheimer’s, a narcissist will hide any problems they are having. As the disease progresses, however, and they can no longer hide it, they withdraw from family and friends. As they get worse, they are at risk for suicide, and for narcissists, this is more than an idle threat.
Everyone fears Alzheimer’s disease, but for narcissists, it’s particularly devastating given that they rely on their cunning to control the people around them. That’s why many of them choose suicide rather than risking being vulnerable and dependent on people they’ve usually been abusing all their lives. Read on to learn more about how Alzheimer’s disease affects the narcissist.
Alzheimer’s Disease and the Aging Narcissist
A 2015 study by psychologists in the University of Rosario in Argentina demonstrated that individuals with narcissistic personality disorder were at higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. While no one really knows exactly what causes Alzheimer’s disease, the authors of this study note that it supports other literature describing the negative effects on the brain of dysfunctional coping mechanisms.
Narcissism is effectively a coping mechanism that a child uses when they are unable to develop a healthy sense of self. Because of the stress involved with the hypervigilance a narcissist develops, there are possibly more negative effects on the brain than we currently understand.
Additionally, narcissists often make poor decisions when it comes to self-care and risk-taking behaviors. That could also play a role in the later development of Alzheimer’s disease. Whatever the precise cause, it is certainly something the narcissist dreads.
Because of the nature of pathological narcissism, narcissists who are diagnosed with any of the types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, often hide their diagnosis and symptoms from family members. Moreover, their rage is triggered much more readily which increases their agitation and manipulative behaviors.
As the dementia progresses, narcissists will often commit suicide rathr than be vulnerable and dependent on anyone. They simply can’t take being seen as vulnerable and inferior. Additionally, they don’t usually threaten suicide, they just do it.
It’s a horrific diagnosis for anyone to receive, but for the narcissist, it can truly be life-ending. Aging is hard enough, but dementia is simply unacceptable. For family members of the narcissistic patient, it’s particularly frustrating as they come to terms with a mixture of emotions.
How Does Alzheimer’s Disease Progress?
Alzheimer’s disease progresses through several stages. The early stages are very mild, and the patient may not show any signs of cognitive dysfunction. Often, the disease is diagnosed by medical tests rather than problems the patient is having.
As the disease progresses, the patient experiences increasing cognitive deficits. These typically begin with a mild forgetfulness and progress to complete dependence on caretakers. Most families of patients with this disease will eventually have to commit their loved ones to a full-time care facility in the later stages.
As the narcissist progresses through the stages of Alzheimer’s disease, they become increasingly agitated by their cognitive problems. When they reach the stages where common tasks become difficult, they are forgetting experiences and people, and they are losing control of their bowels and bladder, this is when many narcissists will commit suicide.
What’s interesting for the family of the narcissist is that it’s also at this stage of severe cognitive decline that they will get a glimpse into what their loved one might have been like had it not been for the narcissism. Strangely, that can create poignant and treasured memories that can help them heal the trauma caused by the narcissistic abuse.
As Alzheimer’s disease erases your narcissistic loved one’s memories, it also erases their personality and their personality disorder. That’s when you can see who has been inside your narcissistic loved one all this time. It’s also when you can develop compassion for them because you can clearly see the damage that narcissism has done to their life.
How Should You Care for a Narcissist with Alzheimer’s Disease?
The key to caring for any Alzheimer’s patient is compassion. They are losing their memories, and that’s a frustrating experience for anyone. For the narcissist, there is a significant amount of fear attached to the idea that they are more vulnerable than ever before in their life.
The narcissist fears that their true self will be exposed for all to see if they are no longer able to adeptly control the people around them. Losing their memories is only part of the worry for the narcissist. They don’t want to lose control, and yet, that will most certainly happen.
Once they get to the stage of severe cognitive decline, family caretakers will most likely have to commit the patient to full-time, professional care. Before that time, however, the narcissist will become increasingly frustrated and rageful. While you might have compassion for the reason behind this behavior, it’s still difficult to deal with their blame-shifting and rage.
It’s particularly important that you care for yourself during this time too. The narcissist will blame you for their cognitive deficits, and they will project their feelings of shame onto you. It might be helpful for you to seek help from a support group for family members of Alzheimer’s patients going through the same things.
While their experiences might not exactly match yours since your loved one is also a narcissist, they will understand the complex mix of emotions you’re experiencing. That understanding can be a lifesaver during this difficult time.
Self-Care is Vital
While you’re caring for your narcissistic loved one with Alzheimer’s disease, you also need to care for yourself. This means taking breaks from the constant challenges of treating someone with these complex health issues.
Many family members will take turns giving one another time off from the caretaking. That’s a very helpful measure if it works for your family. Even if it doesn’t, you need to find someone who can periodically give you time off.
Additionally, you need to take time to deal with your own mental health issues. The narcissist in your life traumatized you, and now, they are increasingly vulnerable as they experience more and more cognitive problems. There’s anger, resentment, a sense of duty, maybe some kind of distorted love, and the pain of the abuse you suffered all rolled up into one package.
Added to that mix is compassion for their situation. Watching anyone lose their personality, no matter how disordered it is, is difficult. If you didn’t develop compassion, you wouldn’t be human. Still, that compassion doesn’t change the abuse you suffered at their hands.
That’s why you need to process those complex emotions. Perhaps you can do that through personal growth practices and self-help, but you might also consider speaking with a therapist. They can guide you through the maze of emotions you are feeling and will feel. They can also help you determine if and when it might be right for you to confront the narcissist before they can no longer understand you.
Watching anyone decline from Alzheimer’s disease is no easy task. It generates a mixture of emotions that are as complex as they are fleeting. It’s easy to go from love and compassion to anger and resentment. That mix is compounded when the patient also suffers from pathological narcissism. It’s not something you would wish on your worst enemy, and ironically, it’s often your worst enemy you’re caring for.
If you have been caring for a narcissist with Alzheimer’s, you need to read this article about how to heal your inner child after narcissistic abuse. It has several important tips for taking care of yourself and healing the trauma.
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