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Dementia Care: Learning the Do’s and Don’ts of Dealing with Behavior Challenges

Handling a loved one’s cognitive decline can be a challenging and emotional process. Whether your mom or dad is experiencing early signs of Alzheimer’s or another form of memory loss, changes in their behavior can occur with little warning. Knowing how to face the challenges of dementia behavior can help you continue to enjoy the great relationship you have with your parents while assisting them to navigate their new situation.

If you have questions about the care our team at The Kensington White Plains can provide, please don’t wait to get in touch with us.

Approaches on how to deal with behavior changes can vary depending on the level of dementia your loved one is experiencing. In early stages, dementia care may consist of little more than gentle reminders or coaxing to help your loved one live a more or less typical life as they age. In advanced cases, however, dementia care can look very different, requiring a shift to behavior management and redirection once cognitive decline has become apparent.

Do’s and Don’ts of Dealing with Dementia Behavior Challenges

You may notice your mom or dad experiencing frequent mood swings, personality changes, or lack of mental and physical coordination. Handling these dementia behavior approaches appropriately can help you continue to enjoy your relationship with your loved one even if they aren’t fully able to appreciate you at the moment. Understanding and caring for dementia behavior can take many forms, but there are several general do’s and don’ts of dealing with behavior challenges associated with you can use as a starting point.

Old woman's hand

In Moments of Anger, Aggressive Words, or Actions

Overexcitement, confusion, strong emotions, and frustration can lead to displays of momentary anger, aggressive words, or actions. This common behavior often surfaces when a person living with dementia faces a challenge, usually in the form of something previously considered easy or routine, like getting dressed or remembering where they put the keys to their car.

  • DO stay calm. Remember your loved one isn’t really angry with you, they are feeling frustrated and angry at themselves or the situation.
  • DON’T try to force your mom or day to do something physically. Unless they are in a scenario where they may harm themselves or someone else, it’s better not to get physically involved as this can escalate a situation.
  • DO be patient.  Take a breath. By being willing to table an issue until later if necessary, you can often experience a quicker de-escalation of the situation, with things getting ‘back to normal’ faster.
  • DON’T lose your temper, shout, or yell. It is important to focus on maintaining trust. Walk away if you need to take a moment before attempting to deal with a difficult moment.

In many cases, the ‘mood swing’ will dissipate shortly and your parent will return to a more amenable frame of mind in a few minutes. You can also try to work around the issue – if finding the dining room was a problem, consider sharing a meal with them in their room; if watching a particular show on television seemed problematic, ask if going for a walk outside will help them to feel refreshed.

If you have questions about the care our team at The Kensington White Plains can provide, please don’t wait to get in touch with us.

In Moments of Confusion

One of the most well-known symptoms of dementia is memory loss and confusion about time and place. If your mom or dad sometimes fails to recognize you, thinks you are someone else, keeps asking where they are or when they can go home, or demonstrate other signs of confusion, it can be challenging to know how to respond.

Regardless of the specifics, the general focus of dementia care remains the same: to keep your loved one from becoming afraid or distraught.

  • DO find ways to reinforce where they are. Consider hanging a sign on their room door with their name on it;
  • DON’T argue with them at length about your name or the year. If they think you are Aunt Betty or Uncle Seth for an hour or two there won’t be any harm done;
  • DO try to find gentle ways to redirect them. If they keep asking to leave, for example, look for an activity they enjoy and engage them to spend time with you doing the activity instead;
  • DON’T insist on trying to explain to them what “the reality” is. It might seem counterintuitive to allow your mom or dad to momentarily believe something that doesn’t quite fit with ‘reality’ but allowing them to experience things as they perceive them until the episode passes can reduce confusion and anxiety.

In Moments of Questionable Judgment

Over time, dementia can lead to behaviors that require monitoring, such as remembering to take medication, to turn off appliances after use, or not to wander off without letting someone know.

  • DO consider ways to improve their safety. Memory care communities, in-home care, or other resources can help you care for your loved one without relieving them of their independence;
  • DON’T talk in an accusatory or argumentative way. Instead, try to ask gentle, leading questions to help them make better decisions;
  • DO allocate tasks. Explore wearable technology, automating bill payments, or hiring service professionals like groundskeepers, or other lawn care professionals to reduce your parent’s responsibilities, helping them to manage their daily tasks better;
  • DON’T restrict access to activities or objects as a “punishment.” Instead, look for creative ways to allow activities safely under supervision

If your mom or dad is living with dementia, Alzheimer’s, or other similar conditions understanding the do’s and don’ts of dealing with behavior challenges can feel overwhelming. The good news is, you don’t have to do it alone.

Our Director of Family & Community Services, Susie Sarkisian, is available to help guide you through ways to deal with difficult behaviors as well as provide tips for reducing anxiety and agitation.

Exploring how a memory care community can help you help your loved one maintain their highest level of independence without compromising their health or happiness is only a phone call away.

Book your personalized tour of The Kensington White Plains today.

Further Reading:

Memory loss is life changing for all involved. At The Kensington, we provide a state-of-the-art memory care program, a higher staff-to-resident ratio than industry standards, and more advanced care services. Our promise is to love and care for your family as we do our own.

For additional resources regarding your loved one’s condition, please read on about our Memory Care, Alzheimer’s Care and Dementia Care.

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