How to Handle Frustrating Dementia Behaviors

Alzheimer’s and dementia are devastating for everyone. It can be incredibly difficult to watch your family member or loved one turn into someone you no longer know. Their personality may change completely, and they may start to display erratic, unusual, and even aggressive behaviors that leave you frustrated, upset, and unsure how to cope.

What works one day may utterly fail the next, and you may find yourself lost trying to navigate your loved one’s unpredictable behavior. Serving as caregiver for an individual suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia is challenging, but there are some steps you can take to manage frustrating dementia behaviors and increase both your and your loved one’s quality of life.

Understanding why dementia behaviors occur

The first step to effective management of frustrating dementia behaviors is understanding the underlying causes. Many times, dementia patients are unable to fully verbalize or articulate their feelings and needs, so they communicate through their behavior instead. Often, odd or aggressive behavior is simply an indication that they have an unmet or unrecognized need.

They may be experiencing stress, pain, or depression, or they may simply have a physical discomfort, such as hunger or cold. So when your loved one begins displaying abnormal behavior, your first action should be to verify that there are no obvious physical or mental causes.

This can be a frustrating process in itself, as they may not even be fully aware of what they’re feeling or experiencing, and it can take some trial and error to determine the reason for the behavior. But as you progress, you’ll gain a better understanding of your loved one’s triggers and be able to manage their behavior more effectively.

Managing dementia-related aggression and agitation

Agitation and aggression are challenging dementia behaviors, and they are usually caused by feelings of stress and frustration. It can be difficult not to react in kind, but try to keep a level head and speak in soft, soothing tones, reassuring your loved one that you are there, you acknowledge their feelings, and you want to help them.

A distraction or change of environment can be powerful tools for managing agitation and aggression. So you can try taking them for a walk or ride in the car, or even just take them to a different room. You can also talk to them, play or sing familiar music, or give them a simple task or activity to focus on to distract them from their anger and frustration.

Dealing with paranoia or suspicion

Like anger and agitation, paranoia and suspicion are not logical and can’t be reasoned away — but they are valid feelings that the individual is experiencing. They may claim that someone is stealing their money or belongings or trying to break into their house, and they can also experience hallucinations that further reinforce their delusions.

When dealing with this situation, it’s important to listen and let them air their concerns — without trying to correct or reason with them. Let them know that you understand how scary or frustrating the situation must be for them, and reassure them that you are there to help.

If they believe their money has been stolen, offer to help look for it. While searching, you can try to redirect their attention to another object, or you can even keep some coins or small bills on hand to “find” and resolve the situation. If they are worried about a break-in, acknowledge their concerns, but reassure them that you are there and you aren’t going to let anything bad happen.

How to handle sexual behaviors

Dementia doesn’t eliminate the need for human touch and intimacy, but dementia sufferers may no longer be able to express those desires in appropriate ways. They may try to touch or undress themselves in front of others, or even make inappropriate sexual advances.

While this can be incredibly embarrassing or uncomfortable for friends and family members, it’s important to remember that it is simply a symptom of the disease. However, it’s also a difficult symptom to manage, as those needs cannot fully be met in the way the individual desires. But there are some steps you can take to help manage inappropriate sexual behaviors in dementia patients.

To start, stay calm and composed and don’t act shocked or try to shame them. Instead, suggest that they may want some privacy or personal time and walk them to a private room. You can also use distraction techniques to redirect their attention and get them to focus on another task or activity.

And most importantly, keep in mind that inappropriate sexual behavior is often born from a desire for basic human touch. So make sure that you provide that platonic touch throughout the day through hugs, handholding, hair brushing, and other actions.

Managing dementia behaviors can be challenging, frustrating, and take a toll on caregivers, family, and friends — and it’s important to recognize when you need outside help. If you’re caring for a family member or loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia, Right Hand Senior Care would love to become a part of your care team. We offer affordable in-home care services designed to fit your family’s needs. You can contact us at (insert phone) or (insert email) to learn more about our in-home care options for dementia sufferers.

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