Dementia Challenge: How to avoid negative behaviors when introducing change
Caring for someone with dementia is a challenging journey for all involved. Every day brings new challenges, changes in behaviors and abilities. Life can feel overwhelming as each day may bring unexpected change and increasing concern on how to handle the new challenges. Caregivers find the day-to-day challenges an emotional rollercoaster of anger, fear, grief and fatigue.
The most important thing a family caregiver to learn is this is a task that cannot be done alone. Family care givers need to take time to learn as much as they can about the type of dementia, the part of the brain that is affected and what the anticipated behaviors that may arise. This is so important because the more information you have the better prepared you for the future care needs of your loved one.
A family caregiver needs support to handle the difficult challenges ahead and that support can be found in support groups, online and in the community.
Nothing in life prepares a family caregiver on how to communicate with their loved ones as they mentally and physically decline. The key to successful communication with person with dementia is to offer consistency, keep things simple and provide a structured environment.
Providing structure does not mean that life must be rigid and inflexible with routines. It does mean that daily routines should be followed and flow easily. Consistency is important because repetition can help avoid frustration and conflicts during care and everyday routines.
Simplicity in communication is something that may require forethought in the beginning. We take our day to day conversations for granted when talking to someone we are so have spent so much time with in our life. The hardest thing to realize at times is the person we are caring for is not intentionally trying to irritate or angers. The loss of mental deterioration may result in new and unexpected behaviors and loss of ability to do an old and familiar task.
Learning to be aware of how you communicate to your family member with dementia can make caregiving less stressful as well as provide a more satisfying relationship with your loved one.
Developing good communication skills can prepare a family care giver to assist their loved one with any changes in levels of care or in environment as they decline.
The most important thing to realize is that a person with dementia may not be able to understand your words, but they do pick up on your body language and your mood. It is important to be aware of your mood, your facial expressions and the tone of your voice.
When communicating, stay positive and speak in a pleasant manner. It is important to limit the distractions and use nonverbal cues, such as touching, hugging or holding their hand to get their attention.
Speak slowly and deliver your message in short sentences. It is important that if you feel that your loved one does not understand what you are saying- try using the same statement again. It is important to give your loved one a chance to process what you are saying.
It is good to question so that there are just “yes” and “no” answers. Do not offer a variety of choices to a person with dementia; it is too confusing for them.
Communications takes patience. Waiting for a response can be frustrating. Observe the nonverbal cues, body language and facial expressions. Pay attention to the meaning and the feelings that are being expressed when there is a response. You may find yourself giving verbal cues to words or even visual prompts. This is OK as long as your loved one is not getting upset or distracted.
If your loved one becomes upset, it is always possible to redirect the conversation. Asking questions about things that have happened in the long term past is a good distraction. Long-term memory is still intact and this information will be retained.
Introducing change is never easy to an individual with dementia. It causes confusion and will result in unwanted and negative behaviors. You cannot change those behaviors. You can prepare yourself for this and put a plan in place. It is important to be flexible and open to changing your strategies.