Dementia is medically described as a collection of symptoms that are associated with a sharp decline in memory and other thinking skills. The condition is severe enough to significantly reduce a person’s ability to perform day-to-day tasks.
Caring for someone who has dementia is a difficult job and dementia caregivers can often feel confused about what should be done to address the symptoms associated with dementia. People who have dementia from Alzheimer’s or other related diseases have a brain disorder which makes it difficult to perform every day thinking activities. This condition makes it exceedingly difficult for people with dementia to communicate with others, remember things (even names of their loved ones), think clearly, and take care of their wellbeing.
Furthermore, dementia is also known to cause a significant change in a person’s behavior and personality. All this highlights how difficult it can be to look after someone with dementia. In this blog post, we provide effective tips and strategies that you can use to deal with the troubling behavior and condition of people with dementia to provide them with adequate care.
How to communicate with someone who has dementia:
Due to the loss of memory and impaired social skills, it is natural that caregivers need to adopt a different communication style to reach out to someone with dementia. No one is born with the ability to communicate with a person who has dementia, but all of us can learn. Improving your communication skills is one of the first steps that you can take to enhance the quality of the relationship that you have with your loved one living with dementia.
Not just this, but effective communication will also reduce stress for you and help you in handling the difficult behavior that you might encounter when caring for a person with dementia.
Here are a few practical tips on how you can improve communication with someone with this dementing illness:
- Be positive. Setting up a cheerful mood for your interaction will communicate your thoughts much more strongly than what you will say. Be respectful, be pleasant, and be patient. Make use of positive facial expressions, tone of voice, body gestures, and physical touch to convey the message more clearly.
- Grab attention: If there is any kind of distraction or noise near you when talking to someone with dementia, limit it as much as you can. Turn off the TV, shut the door, close the curtains, or just move to a quieter room. This is important because people who have dementia can face difficulties in focusing and concentrating. Thus, to grab their attention, you should consider limiting distractions. Furthermore, before you say what you want to, it is essential that you first identify yourself by name and relation with the person and address them by their name as well. Keep eye contact and make use of nonverbal cues to help them remain focused on you.
- Ask simple questions: When you need to ask something, be sure to ask simple yes-no questions. If that is not possible, ask questions with choices so that it is easier for the person to understand and respond. Refrain from asking more than one question at a time, or asking open-ended questions. For instance, instead of asking “what would you like to wear?”, you should ask them “would you like to wear the white shirt or red shirt?”. Additionally, whenever possible, it is best if you show them the choices since visual prompts help clarify the question and options.
- Listen carefully: Often, people with dementia will be slow in responding back during a conversation. The key in such situations is to be patient and encouraging. If your loved one is struggling to come up with an answer, you should suggest words. Other than that, you should also keep watching their body language and nonverbal cues to recognize what they are saying. Remember, it is important that you listen carefully with your ears and eyes i.e. listen for the feelings and meaning hidden in the words and actions.
- Use distractions to cater to mood swings: A person with dementia will often become agitated or upset during a conversation when this happens, it is best to change the environment or subject to distract them. You can suggest going to a walk, or doing any action that they like performing. But, when doing so, it is essential that you let them know that you recognize their emotions. You could say something like, “I know that you are feeling upset, I’m sorry that you are angry, let us go for a walk outside”. This is important because it gives them a sense of security and lets them know that you understand their feelings.
- Provide reassurance: Feeling confused, unsure, and anxious is among the symptoms of dementia. Someone with the condition is likely to get reality confused very easily and they will likely recall things that never actually happened. When this happens, you should always try to avoid convincing them that they are wrong. Instead, focus on their feelings and provide reassurance through verbal and physical expressions of support and comfort. Holding hands, praising, or hugging can help to provide the much-needed reassurance that they need.
- Use your sense of humor: There are two rules for humor: first, to use it whenever you can to lighten up the mood, and second, to never use it at the expense of the person. People with dementia tend to retain certain social skills and will often feel delighted to laugh with you. It will not just lift their mood, but help you manage stress as well.
- Recall memories, together: One important thing to understand is that most people with dementia still remember their long-time memories, even if partially. A person with dementia might not remember what happened an hour ago, but they will remember what happened 50 years earlier. Recalling memories and remembering the past can provide a soothing and affirming effect. Therefore, whenever asking questions, it is best to avoid asking questions to recall short-term events, such as what the person had for dinner. A better approach is to ask general questions about the past, such as a childhood memory.
- Be clear with your message: Make use of words that are simple to understand. When talking with someone who has dementia, speak distinctly, slowly, and in a positive tone. Avoid using a louder voice and keep a soft and gentle tone. If the person does not understand what you are saying the first time, then you should use the same words to repeat the message. If they still do not understand then wait for a while and rephrase your message in a simpler, more straightforward style. Whenever possible, use names of places and people instead of pronouns such as they, he, she, etc.
- Simplify activities: People who have dementia will often forget steps, even when forgetting every day routine tasks. Simplifying activities into small and manageable tasks will help you encourage them to do what they can on their own. Whenever you find that they are finding difficulty in doing something, guide them gently on what steps that forgot to perform. Use visual cues, whenever possible, to make it easier to explain.
How to handle challenging behavior:
One of the leading challenges of being a caregiver for someone with dementia is to handle their personality, behavior, and mood swings. You can address these challenges by being creative, flexible, patient, and compassionate. What is important is to understand that people with dementia will often feel confused and aggrieved about their situation and thus, their actions or speech might be aggressive. In such a situation, you should not take things personally and maintain your composure and sense of humor.
For handling this troubling behavior of people with a dementing illness, consider the following:
- Always check with the doctor:
Even though mood swings and behavioral problems are a symptom of dementia, they may have other underlying medical reasons as well. Whenever you see that the person is showing behavioral changes, it could be because they are experiencing a side effect from the medicines or are in pain. For instance, in some cases, people with dementia might experience hallucinations and therefore, might need proper medical treatment or medication to help them manage the problem. Therefore, you should always check with the doctor first to ensure that there are no medical concerns that might be causing the issue.
- Each behavior has a purpose:
People who have dementia are typically not able to tell what they need or want. Sometimes, they might take actions such as taking all their clothes out of the closet, and caretakers will feel confused why. It is likely that if the behavior is not understandable, the person is simply trying to be productive and busy. Therefore, you should always consider what they are trying to achieve with their behavior and if you are able to understand, try to help them in any way you can.
- Each behavior can be triggered by something:
Another important thing to understand is that all behavior is triggered by something. It could be something as simple as someone saying or doing something to the person with dementia, or as complex as a small change in the physical environment. An effective way to influencing behavior positively is to understand what causes the behavior change and disrupting the environment or tone accordingly.
- What might work today, might not tomorrow:
Challenging behavior is caused by several factors that may change over time. The natural progression of dementia may cause the behavior to become more aggressive and troubling over time. This is the reason that solutions which are effective right not might need to be modified in the future. Some solutions might not work at all. Therefore, you will need to come up with a different approach. The important part here is to be flexible and creative in the strategies that you use to address given behavioral problems.
- Remember that you should not try to change the person:
It is essential that you keep in mind that the person you are looking after has a brain disorder. This disorder has shaped them into who they have become. If you try to control or change this behavior then you will not just be unsuccessful but might also be met with resistance and increased aggression. Therefore, it is important that you:
- Accommodate, rather than control. For instance, if the person insists that they want to sleep on the floor, you should place a mattress on the floor to help them feel comfortable rather than forcing them to go to the bedroom.
- Understand that you can always change the environment and your own behavior. Sometimes, simply changing your own behavior will help you change the behavior of your loved ones.
Dealing with aggressive actions or speech:
A common situation that caretakers find themselves in is to deal with aggressive speech or actions. Often, statements such as I don’t want to go home, I don’t want to eat this, I want to go home right now can escalate into aggressive behavior.
One of the most important things here is to understand that this aggression, whether verbal or physical is being caused because of the disorder and the person is not doing it deliberately. Aggression can be triggered for a number of reasons such as discomfort, environmental factors such as an unfamiliar location, or poor communication from the caretaker’s end.
In such a scenario, here is what you should and should not do to deal with these aggressive actions or speech:
- What you should do is to try and reach the cause behind the aggression. What is it that the person is feeling that made them behave in such a way? Once you have made sure that they are not putting anyone (especially themselves) in danger, try to shift the focus towards something else and speak in a reassuring but calm manner to bring a positive change in their behavior.
- What you should not do is to engage in the argument or try to force the issue that is causing the aggression in the first place. If the person does not want to eat something, rather than forcibly trying to make them eat, try and distract them for a while until they feel better. The biggest tip here is to remove the word ‘no’ from the dictionary when caring for people who have dementia.
Get support from professionals:
At the end of the day, caring for someone who has a brain disorder, particularly dementia can be a very challenging task. It is important that you do not feel hopeless or frustrated by looking at the ultimate goal i.e. your happiness and the happiness of your loved one. Following the tips and strategies that we have outlined in this blog post will help you care for someone with dementia but if you ever feel like things are getting out of hand, get support from professionals.
There are a number of support groups, service, and organizations that are experienced with caring for people with dementia. For example, HomeCaring is a professional service that helps you care for your loved ones with conditions that have dementia. The benefit of hiring a professional service is that they are experts who are trained and experienced. They know exactly how to handle the behavioral changes, needs, and wants of people with dementia. Hiring Home Caring services will help you enjoy peace of mind and ensure that your loved one is happy and healthy.