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Successfully Dealing with Difficult Dementia Behaviors

Updated: Dec 17, 2018

Alzheimer’s affects more than 5.7 million Americans. While many people may think of dementia causing some slight confusion, there is actually a wide spectrum of different behaviors that a senior with dementia may exhibit. Some of these may include angry outbursts or even violent behavior. Understanding and dealing with these behaviors can be a very stressful aspect of caregiving. These tips can help you to deal with difficult dementia behaviors successfully.

First, it’s important to remember that your senior is not deliberately being difficult. Your senior’s sense of reality may be different from yours, which can produce problematic reactions. While you cannot change the person with dementia, you can employ strategies to better deal with these difficult behaviors. The environment you create and the way you communicate with your senior can have a large impact on you and your senior.

Second, try to examine the dementia behavior objectively. Ascertain if the behavior presents a danger to himself or to others. It may be that the behavior is only embarrassing or disruptive but not actually harmful. Avoid correcting or escalating situations by learning to let some things go. It may be better to let your senior engage in irrational yet harmless behavior rather than upsetting your senior by trying to correct him. Protect your senior from harm but give him some freedom and control to make his own choices when possible.

Then, look for patterns to help you predict and prevent difficult behaviors. Try to discern if something specific, a certain season, or a certain time of day has triggered the behavior. New noises, people, or places can sometimes have a negative effect on your senior’s behavior. Being aware of your senior’s triggers can help you to avoid certain actions or events that may cause problematic behavior. Determine if changing the atmosphere or environment helps your senior.  If you cannot avoid the trigger situation, you can at least be prepared to deal with the resulting behavior.

In addition, seek to understand the “why” behind your senior’s behavior rather than what your senior is actually doing. Many times, your senior’s odd behavior may be an attempt to communicate or a reaction to stress or fear. If you can discover why they are stressed or uncomfortable, you may be able to resolve the problem easier. Identify if your senior’s basic needs are being met. Meeting a basic need like hunger or thirst can sometimes resolve the issue before it becomes a big problem.

Lastly, validate your senior’s feelings.  Usually, the senior is not thinking logically. Trying to reason with him might only make things worse. Rather, let your senior know that you understand he is upset and you want to help him. Your body language, facial expression, and tone of voice will mean much more than your words. Use eye contact, a smile, or a reassuring touch to show compassion and help convey your message.

Remain calm and try not to take the behavior personally. Look for opportunities to agree with your senior rather than contradicting him. Use familiar or pleasant stimuli, such as a song, food, drink, or photo, to evoke positive feelings. Try to engage your senior in a favorite hobby or interest.

People with dementia often exhibit unpredictable behavior. Try to be flexible and practice patience and forgiveness. Applying these suggestions can leave you better equipped when difficult behaviors arise in your senior.


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