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Caregiver Training Blog

Dealing with Dementia: Coping with Challenging Behaviors

Topics: Dementia

Caregivers are often frustrated when trying to care for people with challenging dementia related behaviors. As those we care for lose their abilities to think clearly, communicate, remember things, and take care of themselves, they can also experience mood swings and changes in temperament and behavior. Let's take a closer look at the concept of "normal," when it comes to dementia, along with a few valuable coping methods for elder caregivers.

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Caregiving for loved ones experiencing various symptoms of cognitive decline can be a challenge, but also has its rewards.

About Behavioral Changes in Dementia

The fact is that there is no "normal" when it comes to dementia. Because dementia is a degenerative brain disease, its progress can result in a number of less than desirable behaviors that may be stressful for caregivers.

The fact is that you cannot change these behaviors, but you can try to understand them. Your loved one may be frustrated by the inability to express him/herself, or by another specific issue. If you can determine the reason for the behavior, you can adapt your responses and surrounding environment to promote better, more meaningful interactions.

Some Things to Keep In Mind

While you may become angry or upset at your loved one, it's important to remember that impulsive, childlike, and other undesirable behaviors are not deliberate. Your goal is not to stop these behaviors, but to manage their frequency and intensity.

Potential coping mechanisms include:
  • Maintain a Calm Demeanor
    Speak in a soft, quiet voice. Try not to take it personally. Remember, these behaviors aren't directed at you.
  • Give Space
    If your aging loved one is behaving aggressively, give him/her some space. After some time, approach in a non-contentious way. Do not argue. For example, many caregivers struggle with getting aging loved ones to perform basic hygiene routines. This video offers helpful advice if you are struggling with oral care refusal.
  • Consider the Causes
    Sometimes there's no reason your aging loved one is behaving a certain way. However, sometimes there may be a specific reason, one that's completely (or partially) within your control. Is your loved one taking any new medications? Could he/she be tired or lonely? Maybe he's in pain. Treating the causes can treat the symptoms.
  • Vary Your Approach
    Responding directly to dementia-related behaviors has limited chances of success. However, responding to the underlying emotion can be beneficial for you and your aging loved one. Don't try to reason: rather, offer love, support, and validation.
  • Distract or Validate
    In some cases, it's possible to redirect someone with dementia from an undesirable behavior. In other cases, the inability to redirect may a stressor for caregivers. In this case, validating their emotions may be more effective. Being understood -- particularly at a time when communication is failing you -- can have a significant impact.
  • Use Routine to Your Favor
    People with dementia thrive with routine. Lack of a schedule can cause stress and uncertainty, while daily rituals are comforting. Although setting and sticking to a schedule may seem insignificant to you, it's an important part of giving your loved one a sense of purpose.

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Focus on the good moments while working through the bad.

And remember, just as uncertainty and lack of control impacts your own behavior and emotions, they may also be affecting the one you care for. Your role is not to change them, but to offer support. If you found this article useful, check out mmLearn's complete collection of videos for caregivers, including these specific videos for caregivers dealing with loved ones with challenging dementia-related behaviors.

If you're looking for a comprehensive resource for family caregivers, check out our online Family Caregiver Guide.

mmlearn.org offers a large library of free videos for caregivers of older adults, covering topics pertaining to senior care. Whether you are a healthcare professional or a family caregiver, if you are caring for an older adult we know that you will find mmlearn.org an essential learning and guidance tool for all of your caregiver training needs.family caregiver guide download