Whether you’re a professional caregiver or are dealing with a loved one suffering from dementia, the situation isn’t easy to handle. When this condition is in the middle and later stages, there are several behavioral issues to contend with. In all cases, however, we are the ones who have to stay strong and be ready to support the dementia patient.
The physical care of such a person is difficult in itself, but we also have to consider their emotional side. Dementia patients can easily get angry, aggressive, confused, anxious, and depressed. This can cause a more rapid decline and make them miserable, so we need to take the right precautions in everything we do or say.
Visiting a dementia patient or taking care of them round the clock requires us to know certain do’s and don’ts. If we say or do the wrong thing, we might end up triggering something that leads to a tantrum or meltdown. Here are some of the things we should avoid when dealing with dementia patients:
Getting into an argument with a dementia patient is one of the worst and most unproductive things you can do with them. They won’t understand why you’re trying to force an issue or restrain them in any situation. Until and unless they’re a physical threat to themselves or others, we shouldn’t be physically restraining them in any case. For verbal matters, we should take care not to say a direct ‘no’ to their wishes.
For instance, many dementia patients might insist on going ‘home’, even if they’re currently residing in their own house. They might also be in a nursing home, with their condition making it impossible to return to their previous residence. In such cases, we should try to distract them with some puzzles and games, change the subject, or do anything but get into a useless argument.
When a dementia patient wants something impossible, such as going back to their childhood home, there’s no need to explain the various reasons why they can’t get what they want. Explaining that they’re now in their new home or that they have to stay there because of their condition simply won’t get through to them.
Instead, we need to understand that the desire for such patients to get to another place is the desire for a more controlled time in their lives. We can work with this factor, reminding the patient about the belongings they already have with them. It might be a good idea to show them pictures, find them something else to do, or simply take them for a walk. Even if they have their things all packed and ready to go (which is a common occurrence), you can put them off by saying that the weather is terrible or that they’ll leave the next day.
A patient of dementia often acts a lot like a child, so it can be easy to start treating them like one. This isn’t a good idea, especially if we’re using a high-pitched voice and babying language. Keep in mind that these are still adults we’re dealing with, even if they can’t understand much. Honoring them and speaking with respect will help both of you deal with the situation better.
This also means that we shouldn’t overuse nicknames or words like ‘honey’ or ‘sweetie’ too much. The patient will prefer being called by their own name or a certain title. Affectionate words might be uttered in all sincerity, but the patient could find them demeaning on some level.
Dementia patients might lose their hearing over time, but an overly loud tone can still feel like a verbal assault to them. Instead, start by talking to them in a normal, level tone. Increase the volume only if they’re unable to understand what you’re saying. Even if they do have hearing problems, a lower register might actually help them hear what you’re saying.
Dementia patients do feel and notice social cues, even if they don’t seem to respond to them very well. One of the most negative cues you can give them is a sense of being ignored. For instance, you might have a question about their current status, but turn away from the actual person and ask their family or caregiver instead. Talking about the patient as if they’re not in the room can trigger their loneliness and frustration, so make sure to avoid this mistake.
Give the patient their due respect by addressing them first. Yes, you might not get a coherent or useful answer, but the acknowledgment will stabilize their confidence. You can always repeat the question for the family or caregiver later on, preferably when the patient is distracted or not in the room.
Asking Too Many Questions
Speaking of asking questions, it’s also important to realize the right amount to ask. There’s no way to measure this, but the conversation shouldn’t feel like an interrogation. They might get confused, bewildered, or even humiliated at being asked so much, especially if they’re not sure of the answer.
After a couple of questions, focus the conversation on encouragement and compassion. Ask them to tell stories, reminisce about certain events, or even just talk about the tea and snacks you’re having.
Not Making Eye Contact
When you already have a tough routine and other problems going on in your life, taking care of your loved ones might seem like a chore. With time, we might even get used to simply keeping our head down and doing the required tasks instead of engaging with the person properly.
However, it could make everything much brighter for a dementia patient if you take out the time to smile and make proper eye contact when talking to them. This doesn’t take much time and is a standard etiquette when talking to anyone.
Trying to Make them Remember
We have to realize that dementia is not just a psychological illness but also a physical one. There’s irreversible brain damage here, which means that it’s useful to try and revive memories that have already slipped away. Saying “Remember this?” can trigger a feeling of loss or confusion for the patient, leading to more negative emotions.
This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t talk about the past, but that we should let the conversation take its course instead of forcing it along a certain path. You can talk about your own remembrances, which will make the patient feel more comfortable and help them join in when they feel ready.
The children, spouses, and other relatives of dementia patients are usually disturbed by the way their loved ones are acting. The important thing to realize here is that the person doesn’t know what they’re saying. They definitely don’t mean to hurt the ones taking care of them, so this isn’t the time to take anything personally. It is possible to maintain healthy relationships even when dementia takes over, but we have to prepare for a major shift in our mindset. Avoiding the wrong things can help us get to a better level of communication, which is a great way to start this new journey.