Mid-to-late stage dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are two of the most common conditions that elderly people experience. Sadly, they present challenging behavior problems and can put a strain on their relationship with family members. It can be overwhelming to take care of your aging parent or relative with this condition, but remember that the anger, sadness, paranoia, confusion and fear that they are experiencing is a daily struggle.
Understanding and learning how to deal with their aggressive and sometimes violent outbursts is the most effective way to cope with dementia. Seek out the help of personal care givers and medical professionals who can answer all your questions and provide your family with support in such delicate and difficult time.
Dealing with Dementia
Communication difficulties are one of the more upsetting aspects of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or other type of dementia. People often get frustrated when their elderly parent doesn’t seem to understand or becomes oppositional to what they’re being told. It can even seem like they’re doing this on purpose, but this is far from being true.
Although it can be hard to understand why people with dementia act the way they do, the explanation is attributable to their disease and the changes it causes on a neurological level. Of course, it’s understandable to get upset and overwhelmed at times, but you can’t get angry at your elderly parent no more than you can get angry at a child – they simply don’t know better. People struggle with the acceptance that the roles of parent and child have been reversed and now they have to take care – physically and emotionally – for the person who raised them.
To make this easier on yourself – learn about the common situations that arise when someone has dementia, so that if your loved one says or does something that upsets you, you’ll know how to respond without escalating it further.
Mood swings are a common occurrence in patients with dementia and they often refuse to comply with the simplest of instructions (e.g. eat their meals, take a shower, stay indoors). When pressed to do something that is good for them, they can even turn violent. The most important thing to remember about verbal or physical aggression is that it is usually triggered by something—often physical discomfort, environmental factors such as being in an unfamiliar situation, or even poor communication. “A lot of times aggression is coming from pure fear,” says Tresa Mariotto, Family Ambassador at Silverado Senior Living in Bellingham, WA. “People with dementia are more apt to hit, kick or bite” in response to feeling helpless or afraid.
Never engage in an argument or physically force a person with dementia or Alzheimer’s to do something. Apart from aggravating the situation, this is simply humiliating to your elderly parent or relative and diminishes their sense of worth and human dignity. The key to responding to aggression caused by dementia is to try to identify the cause—what is making them behave aggressively? Once you’ve contained the situation by shifting their focus to something else, try bringing up the topic again by speaking in a calm, reassuring manner. It’s important to make your loved one know they are cared for, listened to and that their opinion and feelings matter. Once you start recognizing the tell-tale signs that your elderly parent is uncomfortable with something, you’ll be able to prevent temper tantrums before they’ve happened.
Another common issue people with dementia or Alzheimer’s experience is confusion about time or place. They can wonder off away from home, get lost or forget where they live. Sadly, these conditions cause progressive damage to cognitive functioning, and this is what creates the confusion and memory loss. Avoid lengthy explanations regarding why there’s a personal home care assistant with them and why they need them. Simple explanations along with photos and other tangible reminders can help. Sometimes, however, it can be better to redirect the person, particularly in cases where you’re in the process of moving your loved one to a facility or other location.
Last but not least, family members of people with dementia or Alzheimer’s are all too familiar with unfounded accusations, obsessive-compulsive behavior like hoarding, stockpiling or repetitive tasks as well as general difficulty with the simplest of tasks. After you assess the extent of the problem, you will want to respectfully offer your help or the help of a personal home care assistant. Avoid blatantly questioning the person’s ability to handle the situation at hand or arguing with them. This is about creating a safe space, where they feel secure, comfortable and loved.
As you and your loved one learn to live with this life-altering conditions, there will be more and more situations that you’ll have to deal with on a daily basis. As a caregiver, you can never be 100% prepared for what life with a parent with dementia has to offer. Remember that whenever you feel overwhelmed or unsure in your decisions – you can always turn to professional caregivers who can lend a helping hand to your family in these difficult times.