It is not easy taking care of an aging loved one. It’s even harder to care for a loved one who is suffering from dementia. It takes a toll on our mind, our body and our spirit. Sometimes the behavior of someone who has late stage dementia can be quite a challenge. It is important to learn how to deal with those behaviors in a way that is not going to further confuse our loved one. Frustration does get the best of us sometimes. We do not always know why these behaviors occur or how to handle them and what they may actually indicate.
Here are some examples of challenging behaviors and some tips on managing them:
Wandering- Those with dementia walk around aimlessly looking for “some- thing”. Most times it’s because they are trying to fulfill a need that they cannot verbalize or make known. Your loved one may be hungry or thirsty. They may even need to use the bathroom. They may be bored or over stimulated or having adverse reaction to medication. Providing your loved one with a safe place to wander may be the best answer for this. Be sure to remove things that they can possibly trip over and always put their safety first. Being sure your loved one gets daily exercise can also help even if you go for a walk together. If your loved ones wanders outside, you can use child proof doorknob covers and post STOP signs on the door to deter them from going out the door. Redirecting will help as well. An example would be to say, “ Let’s go in the kitchen and we can have some tea.” Or “Can you please help me set the table?”
Agitation- There are a lot of reasons why your loved one may become agitated. One reason may be because of environmental factors in a home or in a room. Sometimes a TV being on along with many family members having a loud con- versation in the same room can be enough to agitate someone with dementia. Most of the time the agitation is accompanied by fear and fatigue and usually happens when the loved one is experiencing a loss of control. This can be ex- pressed by verbal and physical aggression as well as increased irritability and sleeplessness. We can ease their agitation and create a peaceful environment by keeping the clutter and noise level down to a minimum. Sticking to routines help a loved one conduct their activities of daily living such as eating, dressing and toileting. Give your loved one choices and empower them with a true sense of control. It is best not to make drastic changes to the layout of furniture in a room so that the area stays familiar. Try playing soft music or gentle touching on a hand or shoulder. This can help calm someone who is agitated as well.
Sundowning- When irritability and agitation get worse at the end of the day, this is known as sundowning. This can be carried through the night when the days and nights are mixed up. Limit use of caffeine and sugar to early in the day. In- crease daily exercise and activity during the day and as the evening approaches, close the curtains and turn the lights on before it gets dark as to keep a consistent visual environment as the day turns to night. As a caregiver it is important for you to get enough sleep. If your loved one is up at night, consider reaching out to family to help or hire someone to come into your home for a few hours a day to give you a break and allow you to get some rest. Also take time to go to the store or go get your hair and nails done.
Remember that if your loved one is suffering from dementia, they cannot con- trol their behavior. Provide a stimulating environment that will allow your loved one to remain safe. When the time comes that you can no longer care for your loved one on your own or if their symptoms become unmanageable, it may be time to reach out to a professional for help at home or take the next steps to find a community appropriate for your loved one.