If a loved one has been diagnosed with dementia, as the family caregiver, you will need to understand certain facts about the changes in behavior the condition can cause. In mid- to later-stage dementia, these changes can result in very challenging displays of aggression and disruptive behavior that can make it more difficult for you to provide the care they need. However, it is important to understand the reasons behind these changes, and in this blog, we discuss some common scenarios and how best to cope with them.
Understanding the Causes of Behavioral Changes in Seniors with Dementia
There is a lot of emotion tied up in the ways we can react to aggressive and disruptive behaviors from our parents or loved ones with dementia. Their actions can be hurtful, cause anger, or impatience. Yet, for any family caregiver, taking a few steps back to assess and understand the situation is vital.
It is important to always keep in mind that the reason behind physical or verbal aggression is usually a result of your loved one feeling scared, paranoid, angry, or confused. According to the Alzheimer’s Association of America, the symptoms of dementia include memory loss, and also an inability to communicate clearly or easily, and a lack of focus and reasoning. It is, therefore, easy to see why your loved one may be feeling the way they do, and reacting in previously uncharacteristic ways.
You should imagine how you might feel or react, if you were in your loved one’s position. You would probably feel irritable, unpredictable, easily angered, depressed, or eager to withdraw, and these are the most typical behavioral patterns of people living with dementia. Knowing this information can be a strong first step in finding effective ways to cope with aggressive or disruptive behavior in seniors with dementia, as outlined by this DailyCaring blog.
Common Scenarios of Challenging Behavior in a Loved One with Dementia
There are many strategies you can use to cope with aggressive or disruptive behavior in seniors with dementia. Aggressive speech or actions, accusations, and difficult demands, are common scenarios. Recognizing their cause, and how best to deal with them, will help both you and your loved one when these scenarios arise.
Aggressive Speech or Action
It can be shocking when a parent or loved one lashes out verbally, or is even more aggressive, such as by throwing things. But, try to remember that this behavior is unintentional. Their aggression is probably due to their inability to communicate effectively, they may be experiencing physical discomfort, or they may be uncomfortable due to being in an unfamiliar setting.
The solution: Many seniors with dementia, including Alzheimer’s, lash out, so your best coping technique is to identify what is causing the aggression. Once you identify why your loved one is behaving this way (e.g. Mom always hated that food, or Dad is too tall for that chair), shift the focus away from whatever is causing the problem. Knowing them personally is very helpful, as it can help guide you in knowing how to speak to them. For instance, if Mom hates being talked down to, don't use a manner of speech that might annoy her. If Dad is defensive about his space, keep your hands away from him and offer him a different chair.
Hiring a Home Care Aide can also be of great benefit. Not only will they be able to deliver a tailored dementia program, they will also provide a familiar and compassionate presence in your loved one’s routine; forming a strong bond that allows the caregiver to understand your mom or dad’s personality and preferences, so they can help care for them accordingly.
Lack of Judgment Leading to Accusations
It can be very hard to cope with aggressive or disruptive behavior in seniors with dementia, especially when they are accusing you of hurtful things. For example, "You stole my ring" or "You are trying to make me leave my house". But these outbursts and accusations are due to one of the more common symptoms of dementia. The deterioration of brain cells disrupts their ability to think clearly, and can cause delusions and false beliefs that result in accusatory statements.
The solution: Try to be reassuring and encouraging, rather than argumentative. Again, it is about turning your loved one away from the issue of irritation, and doing so without embarrassing them or trivializing any frustration they are clearly feeling. As an example, if Dad accuses you of trying to make him leave his own home, or yours, you can focus on all of the reasons you want him there. Say something encouraging, such as: "Dad, you make everyone happy, and have your own room. We don't ever want you to leave."
It can be very hurtful, stressful and frustrating to be accused of wrongdoing when you are providing care to a loved one, and at such times, hiring a Home Care company who can offer respite can be very advantageous. A Home Care Aide can provide the companionship and Home Care your mom or dad needs, while you get the break from the family caregiver role that you need too.
Difficult Demands Caused By Confusion
A decline in cognitive function will result in your loved one losing their memory over time, and this can cause great distress, both for you, and your parent. They may not be able to understand or recognize what is troubling them, and can seem confused about time and place. For example, they might aggressively demand that they want to go home, despite already being in their own home, and may even lash out at anybody they see as an obstacle to their wishes.
The solution: Do not try to reason with your loved one, and don’t point out their confusion. Instead, frame any responses as concise answers. Redirection or therapeutic lies, often called “fiblets”, are also often the best way to work through moments of confusion or panic.
For example, if a parent is at home, but insists they wish to go home, it is probably because they suddenly feel unsafe or uncomfortable. Make them feel as safe as possible. An answer as simple as: "Mom, we can’t leave right now because of the weather. Let's sit in the living room for a few minutes first," can help put them at ease temporarily, until the moment passes.
A feeling of security can greatly help your loved one at such difficult times, which is why being cared for in the comfort of their own home is often the preferred option. While this can place demands on you as the family caregiver, hiring a Home Care company to help means you do not have to manage on your own. After a needs assessment, they can put in place a program that can help your mom or dad maintain a good quality of life and remain comfortable and safe, reducing the possibility of disruptive behavior.
To find out more about how a Home Care company can support you and your loved one with dementia, please contact Ezra Home Care for a needs assessment and more details.