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A Caregiver's Guide To Dementia Behaviors
October 22, 2020
A Caregiver's Guide To Dementia Behaviors
Caring for a loved one with dementia can be challenging and, at times, frustrating. There are so many changes taking place in their minds that affect how they relate to you and the world around them. But you are not alone—many people have experienced the same things you are now, and there are resources to help. Here is a caregiver’s guide to dementia behaviors.
What Is Dementia?
To start, it is helpful to grasp what exactly the term means. Dementia refers to the loss of memory, problem-solving, and other cognitive abilities in a way that impairs daily life. Alzheimer’s disease most often causes dementia; however, it can start from other sources as well. The impact of dementia-related memory loss and cognitive impairment can be quite serious, especially on the mind.
How Does It Affect the Mind?
Dementia affects a person’s mind deeply because, at its core, it stems from damaged brain cells. The abnormal brain changes that result account for alterations in mood, behavior, and memory. Each brain cell plays a role in everyday life; each region works together to perform necessary functions for living. When parts of these regions deteriorate, those functionalities begin to weaken, too. At its core, dementia affects a person’s thinking skills. These, in turn, alter behavior and feelings, which further affect a person’s relationships.
What Behaviors Should I Look Out For?
One of the saddest and most difficult parts of dementia to manage is the change in a person’s behavior. Though you cannot alter what has happened in your loved one’s brain, you can learn what to look for and how to address it. The following are a few of the most common behaviors to look out for.
Mood swings are situations in which a person transitions from one strong emotion to another, typically from a positive or happy mood to an angry and upset mood. Many people experience mood swings who do not have dementia, including those with novel stressors in life and hormone imbalances. However, dementia mood swings can be more unpredictable. If you notice these quickly changing emotions, do everything you can to calm them—even consider giving them the appropriate space to process their feelings.
As the hallmark sign of dementia, memory loss doesn’t just affect a person’s ability to recall memories. It also changes how they interact with others, especially people they have known for a long time and have now forgotten. Memory loss can be hard on family members and spouses as their loved one begins to forget who they are. Memory loss can also lead to frustration and confusion when that person is incapable of remembering something important or feels disoriented in a once familiar situation. With memory loss behaviors, do not try to remind them of what they should know or tell them they should understand what to do in this situation. They simply no longer know or remember. Instead, focus on redirecting their thoughts from the troubling reality and help them piece things together later in a calm setting.
Confusion, whether as a byproduct of memory loss or not, is a common behavior in people with dementia. The important parts of the world around them have become alien and unknown—what they once could understand quickly or handle with ease has now become challenging and incoherent. Confusion often presents as abrupt pauses in conversation or activity when the person suddenly feels confronted with a seemingly illogical reality. Dementia confusion can even grow into paranoia. To address this confusion, consider implementing a routine in their daily life. Helping them to establish predictable patterns and activities with familiar people will decrease the amount of confusion they experience each day.
Inability To Complete Daily Tasks
Because dementia affects brain cells directly, people often experience physical impairment along with cognitive incapacity. The brain is a relatively small organ, and disease can strike any functioning part. Those with dementia will have an increasingly difficult time completing daily tasks, such as brushing their teeth, bathing, dressing, and eating. Fine motor skills will worsen the quickest. Actions that require minute movements of the fingers, feet, legs, and arms will become challenging. When you notice these behaviors, ask them how you can help. Avoid patronizing them or diminishing their autonomy—you are there to help and support them. Find ways to aid them that they are comfortable with, and seek out methods to simplify their activities. For example, instead of wearing clothing with small clasps that they are unable to operate alone, opt for pants with waistbands or shirts without buttons.
Losing your memory and capacity to perform simple tasks is frustrating and, at times, infuriating. When your slipping mind and aging body confront you, you tend to feel a certain level of anger at the world. Though this is very normal, agitated behavior is hard to manage. Furthermore, dementia is common in older adults who have other health complications. For example, a dementia patient may also fall and need a hip replacement, which would then require an extended stay in a hospital or after surgery home care where their dementia will increase their confusion and agitation. Whether they are experiencing agitation in everyday life or anger in a confusing new healthcare setting, you can support them by providing a willing ear. Validate what they are experiencing, and let them know you hear them. Try diverting conversation, and connect with them in specific ways. Also, consider using humor to lighten their emotional load.
Like the inability to perform tasks, dementia can impair the brain’s ability to speak, process internal thoughts, and comprehend other people’s speech. When interacting with a person with dementia, speak slowly and clearly. Give the person extra time to process what you say and formulate a response. If verbal communication has proven too difficult, consider finding other ways to communicate through sensory connections, such as physical touch and music.
A caregiver’s guide to dementia behaviors like this one can help you prepare for interactions with your loved one. Dementia is challenging for both the person with the disease and those around them. As a caregiver, take time to care for yourself and spend time around people who encourage you and enrich your life. You must care for yourself well if you want to care for your loved one with attentiveness. If you have any questions about dementia care or other home care options, contact a member of our team here at Fedelta Home Care for more information.