Tips to Help Caregivers Deal with Behaviors Caused By Dementia
Dementia is a general term for diseases that impact memory, language, or other cognitive skills that affect the ability to perform the typical activities of everyday life. There are several forms of dementia, but Alzheimer’s disease is the most common. While age is the greatest risk factor for dementia, it is not a normal part of healthy aging.
In most types of dementia, there is a gradual worsening of symptoms over time. What those symptoms are depends on which part of the brain is affected by the disease – and that may change as it moves to different areas of the brain. Dementia is a neurodegenerative disease, which means that it causes progressive damage to nerve cells, resulting in memory loss, mood swings, and even changes in personality and behavior.
These changes are difficult to deal with for both the person with dementia and their caregivers. People with dementia often feel confused, anxious, and unsure of themselves, which may lead to frustration and outbursts. Behaviors like aggression, hallucinations, and wandering can be unsafe and hard to manage.
If you are a caregiver, it’s important to understand that your loved one with dementia is not behaving this way on purpose – they are experiencing their own reality, caused by the brain disorder. Unfortunately, factors like physical discomfort, the environment, stress, or poor communication can further aggravate behavioral issues. But, with some practical strategies and small changes, you can help your loved one better manage their symptoms and improve their well-being.
Here are some tips to help you respond to your loved one when they are upset:
- Identify any immediate triggers that may have caused your loved one’s discomfort.
- Try to determine if there is an unmet need (hunger, thirst, etc.) causing their behavior and, if you can, accommodate them.
- Rule out physical discomfort or pain as the cause of the behavior.
- Examine the environment, removing distractions or potential stressors like loud noises, low lighting, reflective surfaces, bright colors, and patterns.
- Focus on their feelings, not the facts. Don’t try to confront or correct them, but instead acknowledge their feelings.
- Meet them where they are in time, understanding that they might be reliving an experience from the past.
- Maintain eye contact and watch your loved one’s body language.
- Speak softly and slowly in a reassuring tone, using simple words and sentences.
- Try to remain calm – and take a break, first assuring your loved one is in a safe space, if you cannot.
- Try not to get upset or take behaviors personally.
- Try to shift focus with a relaxing activity like a walk outdoors. But, before you attempt to redirect your loved one, first make sure you’ve connected with them on a feeling level.
- Use calming music to soothe them.
- If your loved one is being very aggressive, do not initiate physical contact during the outburst. While touch can be reassuring in many instances, it can also trigger physical violence.
- Make sure that you and your loved one are safe. If they won’t calm down, seek medical assistance. Always call 911 in emergency situations, making sure to tell first responders that your loved one has dementia that is causing aggression.
When dealing with difficult behavior or trying to quiet outbursts, it’s critical to remember that, as a caregiver, you can control your own behavior and the physical environment, but you cannot change the person with dementia. If you try to control or change their behavior, you will most likely be met with even more resistance. Trying to accommodate their needs and to understand their feelings will be more effective in helping them calm down.
That said, due to the nature of the disease, what works today to diffuse a situation or to stop troubling behavior may not work tomorrow. Being creative and flexible in your strategies to address issues is important.
Equally important is caring for yourself. Caregivers deal with an incredible amount of anxiety and stress. Let your friends and family help, when possible. Take care of yourself physically and mentally. Look to online communities and support groups for additional help and resources.
And, make sure to rely on your loved one’s physician as an important part of their care team. Behavioral problems experienced by a person with dementia may have an underlying medical issue, like physical pain or a side effect from medication. Regular medical checkups can help manage symptoms, along with monitoring the appropriate plan of care. Members of Be Mobile Neurology have unparalleled access to Neurologist Dr. Deborah Boland through calls, texts, emails, video conferencing, and in-home, in-person visits. Dr. Boland works side-by-side with caregivers and family to develop an individualized treatment strategy for your loved one, helping them live a fuller life despite the neurodegenerative disease process.
If you’re interested in learning more about how Be Mobile Neurology can help your loved one with dementia, please call (813) 981-4403 or contact us online.