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IKF Blog
Posted: Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Dealing with difficult dementia behavior

When taking care of a loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia, the challenges often seem overwhelming. They can say things you don’t understand or know how to respond to, such as when they continue to ask to go home. Managing dementia behavior isn’t easy. Although the person you once knew may now act in ways that are uncharacteristic, knowing how to respond can make a big difference. 

Here are 5 recommendations to consider when you find yourself caught in difficult interactions.

  1. Understanding the meaning behind the behavior

If your loved one continues to ask to go home, try to discover what they are really looking for. The word home may represent something completely different than a physical structure. They may be referring to a feeling that gives them a sense of home. It may be a memory of a time when they felt safe and comfortable.

Don’t argue with them that they’re already home or that they can no longer go there. This may unintentionally tell them that they will never feel secure. They are searching for something. Try to understand what that might be.

  1. Responding to agitation or frustration

If your loved one is becoming upset or angry, they may need to be reassured that they are loved and cared about. Pay attention to triggers that seem to occur before a change in behavior to find any patterns. Try to find ways to minimize or avoid those situations as much as possible.

The reason behind the behavior could be as simple as hunger, over-stimulation or tiredness. Their misunderstood reactions may cause more empathetic responses when we remind ourselves that they’re struggling to make sense of the world through the effects of a brain disease.

  1. Don’t argue with them

Trying to use logic to convince them that what they’re saying isn’t accurate doesn’t work. From their perspective, they know how they feel, even if it’s not factually true. Pointing out where they’re wrong only makes them more agitated because what they are feeling at the moment is very real to them. Your contradicting words or behavior will come across as a rejection or that you don’t care.

When interacting with someone who is suffering from a cognitive disease, it’s best to meet them in their world and not try to force them into yours - because that’s a place they can no longer visit.

  1. Redirect your questions carefully

If they say they want to go home, ask what they remember most about their home and some of the things they enjoyed about it. What is their favorite memory? You can ask what they would like to do once they get there.

If they can’t seem to move on, it might be helpful to redirect their thoughts or provide a distraction. If that’s not working, you may try agreeing to take them there and then perform all the steps to get them ready to go for a ride. If they still want to go, you can make several stops along the way. At some point, one of these activities will likely provide the right distraction.

  1. Changing your own behavior

Sometimes, no matter how aware you are of the triggers or skillful you are at avoiding certain subjects, you will still find yourself as the object of their frustration or anger. It’s important to acknowledge that you can’t change their behavior, only your response. If you react in exasperation or irritation, that may only fuel them.

Try changing the location, background noise or asking them to help you out with a simple task. Distractions are usually successful because they disrupt a situation that is not going well. But always acknowledge that you care and can see that they are sad, hurt or angry. Let them know that the two of you will try to find the answer.

Living in an illogical world

If there are abrupt changes in your loved one’s behavior, always rule out the more simple causes. Medications and infections can often be the reason for erratic behavior. You’ll also want to figure out if there are environmental triggers occurring, such as loud background noises, too many people in the room or changes in their daily routine.

It’s not easy deciphering what someone with a brain disease is trying to convey. But regardless of their words or behavior, they’re trying to get their needs taken care of. Although it can be difficult, remember that their intent is not to make you feel bad. Imagine the frustration of trying to get someone to understand what’s wrong. So even though you likely feel like you’re looking for an elusive answer in the dark, you’ll still need to search.

One of the best things you can do is to take care of yourself so that you’ll be better able to cope and react reassuringly to them. And like most people who care for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia will tell you, it’s too hard to go through this alone. You need help. Discover a way to take a break and get plenty of rest. If you haven’t already, find support either from family, friends or an organized group where you can share experiences and suggestions.

Ingleside’s Memory Support Assisted Living

We understand and are trained in how best to respond to these behaviors and can help both you and your loved one to find ways to interact that can help support the relationship. At Ingleside’s Memory Support Assisted Living, our experience and knowledge is a resource for our families. And if you find that your loved one is requiring more care than you are able to provide, we can help. 

Call (240) 455-4582 if you have any questions or would like to schedule a personalized tour today.

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