As an individual experiences the life-altering changes of progressive dementia – the loss of memories, confusion, sensory problems, diminishing abilities, the struggle to communicate – it’s common that challenging behaviors evolve in response to their ever-changing world. For a caregiver of a loved one with memory loss, dealing with challenging behaviors such as aggression, suspicion and delusions can be emotionally difficult and, in some cases, dangerous for both of their safety.
“Caring for a loved one with memory loss involves much more than just supporting daily tasks like getting dressed, eating, and going throughout the day,” says Jimmie Fay Griffin, Executive Director at Clarity Pointe™ Tallahassee, a memory care assisted living community in Tallahassee, Florida that will be opening in December 2017. “Caregivers also have to learn to manage the challenging behaviors that result as symptoms of dementia. The disease can cause loved ones to change their personality, become aggressive or mean, and even experience intense delusions as their dementia progresses. It’s crucial for caregivers to know how to manage such behaviors to keep themselves and their loved one out of harm’s way.”
Caregiver Dos and Don’ts for Challenging Behaviors
Those suffering from memory loss may display aggression due to physical, emotional or environmental factors. Because of their cognitive decline, it’s not always possible to reason with the person the way you would with someone healthy. Memory care experts such as those at the Alzheimer’s Association® suggest guidelines for responding to a loved one’s aggressive behavior in ways that will help avoid a violent or dangerous situation. If the person in your care becomes upset and aggressive towards you, experts advise following these guidelines when you respond:
DO: Identify the Cause – Try to determine what your loved one is reacting to. What happened right before they became aggressive or violent? Is something different in their environment? Do you notice any patterns between the times they get upset?
DON’T: Overreact – Try not to shout back at an aggressive person with dementia, as this will probably only distress them even more. Use a calm tone of voice as you speak to them. Often, they will mirror your calm attitude and start to relax.
DO: Use Distraction – Aggressive behavior may subside as the person with dementia loses track of why they are upset. As a form of distraction from their trigger, change the subject or scenery or try to engage them in an activity they enjoy. Sometimes their favorite song can ease their mind.
DON’T: Use Physical Restraint – Try to avoid using physical force or restraint when your loved one is angry. Determine whether either of you are in danger and, unless the situation is severe (e.g., they are trying to harm you or themselves), use other methods to calm them down.
DO: Call 911 in Emergencies – In serious cases, calling 911 may be a necessary last resort, especially if your loved one has become violent and one of you is hurt. In addition, if your loved one is acting violent because they feel threatened, seeing a person in uniform may help them feel safe as well as mitigate the scene.
Dealing with Suspicion & Delusions
As with aggressive behaviors, loved ones who experience suspicion or delusions as symptoms of dementia may put themselves and their caregiver in possible danger. A loved one’s condition may convince them that you are trying to harm them or abandon them. Delusional behavior could cause them to act in a way that could lead them into a dangerous situation, especially if your loved one believes they are in danger. These kinds of behaviors require careful management.
DON’T: Try to Argue – If your loved one is talking about something that isn’t real, let them express their thoughts and listen carefully to what is troubling them. Try your best to meet them in their reality. Then reassure them that they are safe and let them know you care.
DO: Offer Simple Answers – Respond to their concerns and share your thoughts, but keep your answers simple. Lengthy explanations or complicated reasons may only overwhelm them and lead to more aggressive behaviors.
DO: Redirect Their Attention – You may be able to coax them out of their paranoia by distracting them with another activity. Ask them to help you tidy the room or start a new project.
DO: Keep Duplicates – If your loved one frequently misplaces the same item and gets upset when it’s lost, purchase a few duplicate items, if possible. For example, keep extra pairs of reading glasses on hand if your loved one is always losing hers.
With all symptoms of dementia, it helps to remember that your loved one’s behavior is because of their disease. They are struggling to live in a world that ceases to make sense, and aggression or delusions might be their instinctual way of defending themselves. Don’t take what your loved one says or does during an episode of dementia-driven behavior personally. Remind yourself that it is not your loved one acting this way, but their dementia.
It also helps to remember that you are not alone. Other family members are experiencing similar struggles and learning to cope with aggressive loved ones as well. Joining a support group for caregivers of loved ones with dementia can help you deal with the challenges you face.
Your Partner in Memory Care
As challenging as it may be to manage some of dementia’s most difficult behaviors, caregivers don’t have to do it alone. “Reach out for support,” says Griffin. “Ask other family members to help you, utilize respite care when it’s available or contact your local memory care community to receive some advice from experts about your loved one’s behavior.
“At Clarity Pointe Tallahassee, we’re always happy to help family caregivers support their loved ones at home. Our specially trained team can help by sharing the best practices in memory care and coaching you through responding to your loved one’s most challenging behaviors. We even offer free, educational events on a regular basis, so family members like you can learn how to provide care like a professional. Contact our community today to learn more about how we can help you and your loved one!”
Clarity Pointe™ … Our Difference is Clear
Clarity Pointe™’s Specialized Memory Care “Living” Neighborhoods are truly changing lives for those with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias – and for those who love them. At Clarity Pointe, our mission is to ensure our residents lead connected and rewarding lives.
Opening in December 2017, Clarity Pointe Tallahassee is unlike other providers that offer a secure memory care wing in a skilled nursing or assisted living center. Clarity Pointe Tallahassee will offer four free-standing, purpose-built memory care communities that are solely and entirely dedicated to memory care assisted living. Our communities blend luxurious surroundings with specialized care that is individualized to each resident and delivered by a compassionate, expert team of professionals.
We stay current on the latest trends and advancements in Alzheimer’s care and implement them into our residents’ care plans. Always moving forward, we combine the latest in evidence-based programming with luxurious, residential living and compassionate respectful care.
For each of our residents, we offer a life that is engaging, fulfilling, inspiring and meaningful.