Updated: Aug 24, 2020
Dementia symptoms are extremely challenging and out of the ordinary from someone's normal behaviors and personality. Anger, confusion, and sadness are a few common symptoms a person with Dementia may experience daily. Even though you know your loved one’s Dementia behaviors are symptoms of a disease and not intentional, dealing with these behaviors can be taxing on an informal caregiver's mental, emotional, social and physical well-being. It's a lot to handle on your own. First, realize you are not alone in dealing with these common dementia behaviors. Here is a list of the most common behaviors seen with someone with dementia:
How to manage difficult dementia behaviors?
It will NEVER work to try to reason with or "convince" a person with Dementia. Their reality is completely different then ours. The person is not intentionally trying to be difficult or hard to deal with, they are living in their world and what is true to them. Start trying to live in their world instead of getting them to live in yours!
1) Step Into Their Shoes: Logic and Dementia Don't Mix! Instead of arguing or attempting to use logic with your loved one with dementia symptoms, take a step into their world. Meaning: by trying to give a logical explanation to someone with Dementia, this will most likely cause more emotional frustration to you and the person with Dementia.
Read the example scenario below to see how to respond with someone who is anxious and concerned who has Dementia and how not to respond.
Susan has dementia symptoms and recently moved into an assisted living community. A staff member just saw her eating lunch with other residents. She wants to go check on her and see if she enjoyed lunch. As the staff member knocks and enters Susan's room, Susan asks, "I haven't eaten lunch yet... How come I haven't eaten lunch yet? I want to eat lunch now."
How NOT TO Respond: Well, you just ate lunch Susan, remember? This will only cause more confusion and negative emotions. This response will not register for her causing her more emotional distress. In her world, she doesn't remember eating lunch 20 minutes ago. A lot of the confusion comes from her new change in environment and her new apartment at the Assisted Living. Susan most likely feels she doesn't have any reason to trust anyone at this new place and is really confused why she is even here.
Environment change commonly brings emotional behaviors for someone with dementia, so it‘ll take time for her to adjust and those behaviors to calm down. When responding to someone with Dementia by saying -“don’t you remember?” - this will only upset that person more because remembering is challenging enough already without someone pointing it out. Why don't you remember responses will only make Susan feel bad causing negative reactions out of her and you. Take a step into the person with dementia's world - this has a high chance of increasing the possibility of having a positive experience with them.
The Correct Way to Respond in this situation: Respond with, "Hey Susan, I'm going to go get you some lunch in a little bit!" with a smile. "Okay thanks," said Susan, Susan will feel relieved that she has felt cared for and understood. This correct response requires patience and understanding from the staff/family member to realize she doesn’t think hasn't eaten lunch yet. So, what would I want to be said to me in this situation? I would want reassurance that lunch is coming soon to feel my concerns were taken care of and validated.
Trying to reason with someone with dementia will get YOU NOWHERE. Instead of arguing or attempting to use logic with Susan, it's best to decide to step into her world. Of course, you wouldn't bring her another full lunch, but her hearing someone confirm and try to solve her concerns will calm her down IMMEDIATELY. She’ll feel listened to and understood! (This actually happened but Susan is a pseudo-name for the individual).
The TRUTH about this situation is that if we are the informal caregivers, professionals, family/friend and we are helping someone with dementia - WE HAVE TO CHANGE. A person with Dementia CAN'T change the way he or she is or how they react. We have to change our reactions to any environment or situation to their everyday reality and not our own.
Are you a caregiver? More professional tips coming in the next few blog posts. Any suggestions on tips for caregivers of loved one's dementia behaviors, please message or email me. I an happy to share your proven techniques with this blog audience.
Laura Cassell, CDP
Care Manager and Dementia Practitioner
Pearl Care Solutions & Senior Care Authority-Gulf Coast