Dementia is a degenerative condition which results in the loss of cognitive functioning — thinking, remembering, and reasoning — and behavioural abilities. As it progresses, it disrupts a person’s everyday routine.
Interacting with a loved one who has dementia can at times be challenging. With behavioural changes brought about by dementia, it may seem as if your loved one whom you knew well is now an entirely different person. Things that never used to bother them now set them off, and what used to be calming are now ineffective.
Understanding possible challenges that could arise in the daily care of a loved one with dementia, and knowing how to react, hence become immensely helpful. People with dementia can experience physical discomfort, cognitive issues or changes in behaviour. Learn the Do’s and Dont’s when faced with such situations to help you better communicate and give care to your loved one with dementia.
1. Changes In Behaviour
Aggressive behaviours may be verbal or physical. Statements such as “I don’t want to talk to you!,” or “I don’t want to watch that!” may escalate into physical reactions.
However, such aggression in people with dementia is not without reason. There are usually triggers. Often, it stems from their physical discomfort or insecurity and fear evoked from poor communication and environmental factors. Even a slight change in their daily routine or simply being in a new place could trigger physical reactions.
When your loved one with dementia exhibit signs of aggression:
Do: Keep calm and be patient. Observe and try to identify the cause behind this behaviour, so that future episodes of aggression can be avoided.
Don’t: Raise your voice or insist that you are in the right. Avoid having any verbal or non-verbal cues that will exacerbate the situation, preventing you and your loved one from getting over this episode.
2. Cognitive Difficulties
The deterioration of brain cells caused by Alzheimer’s, in particular, can affect the individual’s behaviour. Poor judgement, confusion and errors in thinking are some of the effects of this deterioration. This may sometimes result in unfounded accusations from your loved one with dementia towards you or others. They may also find it difficult to plan and organize everyday tasks.
When your loved one with dementia experiences cognitive difficulties:
Do: Be encouraging, patient and reassuring. Take time to listen and explain the situation so that your loved one with dementia can make sense of what is happening. Minimise frustration and embarrassment they could feel by devising coping mechanisms to help alleviate the effects of dementia.
Don’t: Be defensive about the situation or respond harshly. This could be interpreted as accusatory or you doubting your loved one’s ability to manage a situation. It may lead to a huge miscommunication that can bring physical aggression.
3. Physical Discomfort
It is not uncommon for persons with Alzheimer’s or dementia to have urinary tract or other infections. Sometimes, medications can cause side effects, especially if they are taking multiple medications. However, because of their declining brain function and abilities, they may be less able to communicate to their caregivers that they are in pain. This causes people with dementia to act out or resist care.
Do: First you’ll want to assess the extent of the pain. For example, if your mother has pain that is unnoticed, she may become restless and resist being cared for. This can be assessed by looking out for non-verbal signs of pain and providing adequate treatment. Always seek for help in emergency situations or call an ambulance, if necessary.
Don’t: Be sure not to ignore their behavioural changes as doing nothing can make things worse. If someone shows a sudden change in behaviour, do investigate this as soon as possible. If pain in a person with dementia goes unrecognised and untreated, there is a danger not only for the person suffering needlessly, but also of them being prescribed inappropriate treatments for their changed behaviour.