One of the most difficult symptoms of dementia for those who suffer from it and for their loved ones is the behavioral changes caused by the disease. As the brain slowly deteriorates it can cause anxiety, depression, inhibition, poor judgment, uncontrolled outbursts, and hallucinations. If your loved one is exhibiting behavioral changes, understanding them is the key to knowing what to do about them. Three of the most common behavioral changes in dementia patients are as follows.
1. Agitation: If your loved one becomes agitated you may see him or her begin to pace, become upset in certain places or when certain events occur. Agitation can be caused if your loved one has moved from one living place to another, one room to another or had a change in caregivers. The paranoia that can accompany dementia care may make your loved one believe that there is a stranger in the house. Medication and exhaustion can also cause agitation.
If your loved one becomes agitated, move him or her to a quiet room and away from the event, noise or person that may be causing it. Then provide your loved one with something that is comforting, whether it is sitting in a rocking chair, holding a soft blanket or listening to calming music.
If you observe that a certain stimuli repeatedly agitates your loved one try to avoid contact with it. Avoid noisy rooms or gatherings with lots of people. For a person with dementia, these situations are exhausting to understand and process.
Make sure that your loved one is well hydrated and fed. Monitor their health and check to see if they are in pain that they cannot articulate.
2. Loss of inhibitions and/or judgment: One of the most troubling changes in the behavior of a person with dementia is suddenly seeing the lack of judgment and loss of inhibitions. Your loved one may suddenly begin talking to strangers, asking them for food, tissues or money. They may make inappropriate decisions or give money to strangers over the phone. With those who suffer from dementia, this will occur repeatedly over the course of time and will establish a trend. You may need to secure your loved one’s finances in order to protect them.
3. Hallucinations: Dementia may cause a person to see, hear, smell or taste something that isn’t there. A woman may believe that she spoke with her husband that morning, even though he died some years ago. Another person may have frightening hallucinations. Many of these are caused by the changes and deterioration of the brain caused by dementia.
If your loved one suffers with hallucinations make sure to schedule a doctor’s visit. It is important to rule out that the hallucinations are not caused by new medications or difficulties with vision or hearing. Ask the physician to check to see if your loved one is in pain or is dehydrated.
It is important to comfort your loved one during a hallucination but be careful not to startle him or her. Make sure that you will be safe as you approach. Use a soft voice and comforting words. Do not try to talk your loved one out of the hallucination. Rather, provide comforting words and soothing reassurance that you will not leave. Try to redirect your loved one to sit down with you or listen to music in order to reduce the hallucination.
Once you have comforted your loved one, check to see if any external sources may have contributed to the hallucinations. Was there something disturbing on television? Was your loved one sitting in a noisy room or near noisy equipment like an air conditioner or heating unit? Alzheimers.org1 suggests that you look for lighting that casts shadows, reflections or distortions on the surfaces of floors, walls, and furniture. If so, make sure that you keep that room brightly lit to reduce shadows. They also suggest that you cover mirrors with a cloth or remove them if your loved one thinks that he or she is looking at a stranger.
It is an understatement to say that it is difficult to watch your loved one exhibiting these kinds of behavioral changes. However, if you know they are caused by dementia, you can learn how to cope with them and redirect your loved one. Comfort and reassurance will help your loved one to navigate these difficult times.
For families seeking dementia care in the home, a LivHOME Life Care Manager can provide the necessary support, guidance, resources, and appropriate care. Contact us today for a free consultation.