Caring for a loved one who suffers from dementia or Alzheimer’s can be a tough road to navigate. Watching their behavior and personality change can be discouraging and daunting. There are certain traits and behaviors that are common in patients suffering from dementia, so we’re here to outline the three biggest tendencies and provide some insight into how to deal with them.
When a senior loved one is suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s, they may exhibit physical or verbal aggressive behavior. It’s important to know that they are not doing it on purpose. Aggressive behavior is usually a result of discomfort – either physical or environmental – or poor communication. These factors that are out of your loved one’s control cause them to be fearful, which leads to aggression.
How do we respond to this? The key is to identify what is making them behave this way. Shifting their focus or conversation away from the cause of their aggression in a calm manner can prevent escalation. This is especially important if there is a possibility of your loved one hurting themselves or someone else. This is where it’s critical that you know your loved one well – understanding their ‘triggers’, understanding how to calm them down, and knowing what cheers them up.
There are certain things you should NOT do to deescalate aggressive behavior. Do not use the word ‘no’ with your loved one, because that only creates and amplifies frustration. Don’t argue with your loved one or engage the aggression with aggression – fighting fire with fire will not work. Don’t forcibly restrain your loved one, because this creates fear and panic – unless you have absolutely no choice.
If your loved one is living in a mental care facility or senior living center, they may get confused by their surroundings occasionally. This can happen in any unfamiliar environment. Wanting to go home is a common reaction for a patient with dementia or Alzheimer’s, and just like the aggressive behavior we previously discussed, this is about control. They feel more in control in their home, in familiar surroundings, and a new environment can be overwhelming. You can deal with this by providing specific answers to their specific questions, even if the answer is ‘a therapeutic lie’. Provide an answer that will make them feel safest.
Reasoning with someone suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s is impossible. It’s essential you don’t berate your loved one with a lengthy explanation to their confusion, because it only makes the problem worse. Adding to their confusion may cause them to get upset or lash out. Short and concise responses are critical.
Unfounded accusations, trouble with math or finances, medication mismanagement, hoarding, or repetition of tasks are some examples of poor judgement. This happens because the deterioration of brain cells causes delusion and lead to untrue beliefs. The concern with poor judgements is that it can result in financial discrepancies, unpaid bills, and more. How can we deal with this? If you’re concerned about these issues with your loved one, conduct a small test like having them figure out the tip at a restaurant (without telling them it’s a test) or flip through their checkbook or bills. Asking them outright can be embarrassing or frustrating for them. If you notice mistakes, it’s important to assist and encourage them, rather than call them out. It’s important they see you as ‘on their team’ and that you’re there to help. Some actions to avoid include accusatory behavior towards your loved one or blatantly questioning their ability to perform the task at hand.
All in all, it takes patience and encouragement to resolve issues caused by the effects of Alzheimer’s or dementia. Providing a helping hand and reassuring your loved one boosts their confidence and strengthens your relationship with them. The difficulty of watching your loved one suffer from degenerative disease is hard to cope with, but being strong and helpful can make your relationship with them a whole lot easier.