5 Ways to Redirect Dementia-Related Behaviors

If your loved one has dementia, you know that caring for this person can include dealing with undesirable and often unpredictable dementia-related behaviors. As an example, a loved one may have been retired for years but becomes very anxious that he is late for work—and this results in his frequently trying to leave home unaccompanied. Perhaps there are as many examples of difficult behaviors as there are people reading this blog, since each personality and disease process is unique.

All behavior has meaning, so when “new” or unusual behaviors arise in your loved one, you should inform the physician. New behaviors could signal an underlying treatable physical issue, or there could also be a need for a medication adjustment or other medical intervention in the interest of safety, etc.

As caregiver, you have the ability to observe patterns in your loved one and develop skills for redirecting his or her attention away from the unwanted behavior. Although it might not be possible to actually prevent dementia-related behaviors every single time, a little practice with diversion techniques (and knowing what not to do) can often reroute the scenario so it doesn’t get out of hand. Here are some simple—but very important—things to remember when attempting to divert attention and redirect an individual.

5 Ways to Redirect Dementia-Related Behaviors

1. Buy a few seconds to think.

Is your loved one combative about bathing or something else? Unless it’s an immediate threat to safety for either of you (in which case, call 911 immediately!), take a few seconds to softly turn away and breathe deeply to clear your mind as you decide the best way to proceed.

2. Watch nonverbal cues.

Use gentle touch, eye contact, and a calm demeanor. If you are raising your voice and obviously are upset, this is likely to reap the same response in your loved one—making things worse, not better.

3. Be creative in your verbal responses.

There’s no need to make up some convoluted response just to stay in your loved one’s reality (some of us are uncomfortable telling a lie.) If your loved one is worried about some obscure thing, e.g. taxes being due and unpaid, or is furious about some event that happened long ago, or wants to tell off the neighbors for their dog barking relentlessly—regardless of what it is, simply offer to take care of it in a few minutes. If necessary, “take care of it” on the spot by pretending to make a phone call, going outside for a couple of minutes, or whatever is necessary to help your loved one understand that you are well able to get the job done.

4. Focus on what really matters.

We are talking about keeping loved ones safe, and secondary to this, we want them not to have a lot of emotional stress, trauma, and sorrow. Anything that doesn’t fall into one of these categories is likely to be of much less importance. Major on the majors.

5. Don’t try to correct your loved one.

It can’t happen and will only frustrate you. Many care recipients, for example, will cry and become upset about people who died years ago: “Why isn’t she home yet?” An appropriate response is NOT, “Don’t you remember? I told you she died eight years ago!” Better to address your loved one’s concern that the person isn’t home yet: “I wouldn’t worry, since we would have heard something if she were in trouble. Why don’t we get a snack and watch some TV while we wait?”

Dementia Caregiver Support in Central Indiana

If you’d like to discuss a specific behavior and appropriate ideas for coping, please contact us at caregivers@cicoa.org. We’ll be happy to assist!

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