Caring for a loved one with dementia at home presents many difficulties, especially when they exhibit challenging behaviors like aggression, wandering, repetitive actions, and more. While medication may sometimes be necessary, there are many non-drug techniques families can try to help manage these behaviors and reduce distress.
Understand the Causes
It’s important to first understand that the challenging behaviors are not intentional or personal. They are caused by the progressive brain damage from dementia. Agitation is often due to unmet needs, discomfort, pain, or confusion in the later stages of the disease. Try to identify triggers and meet needs proactively before behaviors start.
Create a Safe, Calm Home Environment
Simplify and declutter the home environment to reduce overstimulation. Ensure good lighting throughout the house and minimize loud noises. Maintain structure and routine in their daily schedule as much as possible. Speak slowly in a calm, reassuring voice. Avoid sudden movements that could startle or cause confusion.
Try Distraction and Redirection
If an undesirable behavior surfaces, gently redirect their attention to a preferred activity like looking at family photos, listening to favorite music, or watching a classic movie. Even going for a short walk can help diffuse restlessness or agitation. Validation sometimes helps too – acknowledge their feelings before calmly redirecting focus.
Identify and Alleviate Discomfort
Unexpressed pain or discomfort can manifest as aggression, agitation or other behaviors. Note signs like grimacing, rocking, moaning or holding affected areas. Consult a doctor about pain treatment options. Massage, warm baths, topical ointments and integrative therapies like aromatherapy may also help soothe pain and anxiety.
Adjust Caregiving Approaches and Communication
Avoid arguing or contradicting delusions, as this often increases confusion and anxiety. With hallucinations, respond with empathy and distraction rather than logic. Simplify tasks and give clear, step-by-step instructions. Allow extra time for responses when communicating. Break down activities into smaller, more manageable steps.
Enlist Outside Support Systems
Caring full-time for someone with dementia can be mentally, emotionally and physically exhausting for family members. Don’t hesitate to ask other family, friends or professionals for help. Consider hiring home health aides even for just a few hours so the primary caregiver can get breaks. Local dementia support groups and helplines can provide tips and respite resources too.
With patience, creativity and compassion, families can make adjustments to help manage challenging dementia behaviors. Small changes to the home environment, caregiving routine and communication approaches can reduce upset and make caregiving duties more manageable.