Dealing with Difficult Dementia Behavior

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Dealing with Difficult Dementia Behavior

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The holidays are wonderful times to share with family and friends.  However, for families living with dementia, the season is often challenging.  But knowing the obstacles that can arise during the Christmas season and understanding how to provide the most appropriate senior care will help things go more smoothly during this special time of year.

The Challenges

Often families with dementia sufferers believe that theirs is an isolated situation.  It isn’t.  U.S. News & World Report indicates that while dementia isn’t a normal part of the aging process, after 65, the chance a senior will developing Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia doubles every five years.  Around half of all older adults over the age of 85 show symptoms.

While memory care can be a challenge at all stages, the most challenging behaviors with which you will need to cope as a family member or caregiver occur during the mid-to-late stage of the disorder, according to A Place for Mom:

  • Your loved one becomes aggressive—in both their words and actions.
  • He or she is easily confused by changes in their surroundings or time.
  • Your elderly loved one regularly shows poor judgment or has obvious cognitive issues.

And with all of the chaos surrounding the holidays, difficult behaviors can be exacerbated or become more prevalent during this time of year, so it is critical that caregivers and other family members must be mindful of loved ones with dementia.  Be aware of stressors that can trigger difficult behaviors: 

  • Physical discomfort—a hard chair, overly hot drink, uncomfortably warm room—can act as a biological trigger.
  • Social triggers are found in most lot of holiday-related events— an unusual settings, large and unfamiliar crowds, or seeing someone who reminds your loved one of a person or event from the past.

Coping Strategies

Ask senior care experts for the most important coping strategy for difficult dementia behavior during the holidays, and one thing will be on everybody’s list:  understanding how to communicate and connect.  These top five tips from A Place for Mom should help:

  • Recognize that you’re dealing with a declining condition and that difficulties will increase over time.
  • Steer clear of distractions when starting a conversation so that your loved one can focus.
  • Speak in a clear, calm, and natural manner and avoid condescending language or baby talk.
  • Use your loved one’s name or relationship (“Sheila” or “mom,” for example) rather than a pronoun like “you” or “she” when communicating.
  • Limit the focus of your conversations to one topic at a time as adults with dementia find it difficult and frustrating to try to follow multiple strands of conversation at once.

If you’re hosting a holiday gathering, there are a few guidelines you should follow to make sure that things go as smoothly as possible:

  • Make others familiar with the situation.  Tell your guests what to expect. The easiest way to do this might be to write an email describing changes in your home or at a senior care community guests plan to visit.  During visits, act as a buffer, helping your loved one communicate, patiently redirecting conversations, and taking action when your loved one begins to seem overwhelmed.
  • Adjust your expectations.  Accommodate dementia tendencies such as evening agitation or confusion by scheduling holiday events for a different time of the day.
  • Get your loved one involved. Encourage your loved one to get involved by wrapping packages or helping choose decorations is particularly helpful.
  • Plan holiday visits carefully. Bring in your loved one’s favorite holiday food, encourage residents to join you in singing favorite holiday songs, or read a well-loved poem or story aloud. Reduce confusion by avoiding large gatherings and instead scheduling visits with two or three people.
  • Stay on schedule. A routine can be critical for older adults with dementia. One of the best thing you can do for your loved one is to stick as closely as possible to your regular schedule during the holidays.
  • Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. The holidays are already stressful enough. Take advantage of respite care or other temporary caregiving assistance (from professional caregivers or family and friends) during the holidays to avoid burnout. 

Happy holidays!

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Bryan Reynolds
December 19, 2015
Bryan Reynolds is the Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations for Episcopal Retirement Services (ERS). Bryan is responsible for developing and implementing ERS' digital marketing strategy, and overseeing the website, social media outlets, audio and video content and online advertising. After originally attending The Ohio State University, he graduated from the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati, where he earned a Bachelor of fine arts focused on electronic media. Bryan loves to share his passion for technology by assisting older adults with their computer and mobile devices. He has taught several classes within ERS communities as well as at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute run by the University of Cincinnati. He also participates on the Technology Team at ERS to help provide direction. Bryan and his wife Krista currently reside in Lebanon, Ohio with their 5 children.

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