Dementia caregiving is no easy task. The anger, fear, and confusion that is coupled with dementia often means aggressive and unexpected behaviors from suffering dementia patients. Especially when the disease has reached mid to late stage, behavioral problems become prevalent and for many caregivers, difficult to cope with. Here are a few do’s & don’t for dealing with dementia in a parent.
Much like communication with ANY person, communication is at the core of the breakdowns between caregiver and patient. It may be hard to understand why a person suffering dementia acts the way that they do, it’s important to remember the mechanisms by which their communicating. The disease has caused changes in the brain that trickle down through day to day life.
Aggressive Actions and Lash Outs
Unfortunately, dementia symptoms can cause emotion bursts that lead to physical aggression. Which means those who are involved in the dementia caregiving process are often in between what needs to be done to care for the person suffering dementia, and the emotional reaction of the person. More often than not, aggression is a reaction that comes from fear.
For the person suffering, this fear may arise from feeling lost in their surroundings, afraid of what’s happening, or physical pain. For example, if the person you’re caring for has forgotten you- they’re going to be very afraid when you ask them to take a shower. Biologically, it’s an instinct to protect ourselves from these occurrences.
If your loved one or patient lashes out aggressively…
DO: Identify the cause of the aggression. If this is physical, work to resolve the pain immediately. If the cause is more emotional, consider how this person communicates when the aggression isn’t present. Does he or she find comfort in calm talk? Or does it just upset them more? Depending on the answer, adjust your response accordingly.
DON’T: Don’t force your loved one or parent to do anything they do not want to do. Remember this reaction is from fear. You will almost always inspire a physical reaction to forcing the person suffering with dementia to move forward with the task that’s pushing them over the edge. It may not seem like the right thing to do, but if your parent cannot calm down it’s best to walk away.
“Where Am I?” And Confusion on Place and Time
Perhaps the most difficult to handle emotionally are confusions surrounding the place and time. Many people suffering from dementia will try to go to the place in their lives where they felt they had the most control, leading to question like “Where am I?” or “This isn’t my house. Where are we?”
These are among the most common questions asked at assisted living homes in Scottsdale and across the nation. What’s important is how they’re handled.
DO: Take the approach that is most in line with the personality of the person. If it reassures them to be shown photos and be given tangible explanations, do. If not, try to redirect the person to another subject. Ask to go for a walk or another activity they would enjoy. In the case of “When are we going to leave” questions, offer the person a logical reason as to why. Even if your response is a white lie, it can offer emotional comfort to the sufferer.
DON’T: Offer a lengthy story or try to reason with the person. Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to reason with a parent suffering from dementia. More often than not, reasoning with your parent cause the issue to become bigger. Additionally, do not speak to your parent with cold words- stay patient and direct the situation.
Paranoia and Accusations
Late stage dementia caregiving is undoubtedly one of the hardest times to support yourself and your parent. Paranoia and accusations of theft, poisoning, or mistreatment are often prevalent during this stage of dementia. Due to the deterioration of the brain, your parent may have accused you or another person involved their dementia caregiving of stealing their jewelry and in some situations, ungrounded hate.
DO: Give your parent straight and simple answers. If possible, redirect them to another activity. Do your best to keep duplicates of personal items your parent is prone to losing to avoid situations that may lead to paranoia and accusations.
DON’T: Give lengthy explanations, as this may agitate your parent further. As mentioned in the previous section, you cannot reason with a parent suffering from dementia. Try not to take it personally, no matter how difficult it may be.
Help With Dementia Caregiving
Though dementia caregiving can seem lonely, you’re never alone. There are tons of online communities like where you can find the support you need. The worst thing you can do for you or your parent is to hold in the emotional pain. Dementia caregiving has tons of support networks, and professionals ready to help you through the journey. Don’t forget to use them!