No matter how much you love your spouse or older relative, his dementia can cause him to behave in ways that challenge even the most patient among us. You might already know that his actions are because of changes in the brain from the disease. However, it can be frustrating to deal with day after day. Here are some strategies for handling some of the common situations that arise with people who have dementia:
Confusion About Where They Live
Seniors often wander away from long-term care facilities because they are trying to go home. If they feel as if they are not safe or do not have any control over their lives at the nursing home, they are more likely to try to go back to where they used to live.
Alzheimer’s disease relentlessly attacks cognitive functions. Therefore, the confusion is not going to go away on its own. His impaired cognitive function also makes extensive explanations pointless. The conversation will only frustrate your loved one because the disease prevents him from processing what you are saying.
It is important to realize that he is doing the best he can. He might be frightened. Rather than trying to reason with him, redirect him with something he enjoys. Take a walk together, get a coffee or snack, show pictures of the grandkids, or talk about a subject he can still follow.
Rapid mood changes are common in dementia. Your loved one might be sweet one moment, and then, out of the blue, say mean and hurtful things to you. You need to realize three things:
- Most likely, you did not do anything to cause the change in behavior.
- Your relative would have lashed out at anyone who was nearby, so it was probably not personal, even though it felt as if it was.
- The dementia is likely causing the mood swings, so you probably do not have to worry about whether she is developing bipolar disorder or some other mental health issue, in addition to her dementia.
Verbal or Physical Aggression
Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia can rob a person of their ability to communicate what she is feeling. For example, your loved one might be in physical pain, but she cannot put together a sentence that would convey that concept to you. Instead, she shoves, kicks, hits, or bites whoever comes within range. Other common triggers for aggressive behavior in dementia patients include feeling afraid or helpless.
Try to figure out what might be causing the behavior. She might be:
- Hungry and experiencing low blood sugar levels, because she did not eat the previous meal. Check with the staff to see how much she has been eating and drinking.
- Sad and afraid because a friend died. Ask the staff about deaths or other upsetting events at the memory care facility.
- In pain. Request a pain assessment from the nurse or doctor.
Whatever you do, do not argue with her or express anger at her aggression. Those reactions will escalate the situation.
Errors in Thinking
A person with dementia might suddenly be unable to perform a mental function, like calculating the tip at a restaurant. He might accuse relatives or the staff of stealing from him. Try to reassure him.
Do your best to prevent embarrassment or frustration. Ask him if the bank might be making a mistake if you suspect that he is not keeping up with bill-paying. You can offer to help with the task. Do not belittle him or accuse him of being unable to take care of himself.
Be sure to discuss the situation with an elder law attorney near you.
A Place for Mom. “Dementia Care Dos & Don’ts: Dealing with Dementia Behavior Problems.” (accessed September 28, 2018) https://www.aplaceformom.com/blog/2013-02-08-dealing-with-dementia-behavior/