Questions and Answers about Dementia Behaviors
If you are caring for someone with Alzheimer’s Disease or another form of dementia, you need help. It is emotionally and physically draining to watch your loved one change, and to keep someone as safe as possible. When family members or friends offer to sit with you for an hour, or to stay in the house while you get out for a while — say yes. Those little breaks can help refresh your strength and restore your perspective.
Providence offers specialized Memory Care at many of our locations. And families have testified that the support we provide is a relief to them and a blessing to their loved one. The questions below come up frequently as people begin dealing with memory impairments.
1. What is dementia?
Dementia is not a specific disease. It is a descriptive term for a collection of symptoms that can be caused by a number of disorders that affect the brain. Doctors diagnose dementia if two or more brain functions — such as memory, language, perception, reason, judgement — are significantly impaired without loss of consciousness. Alzheimer’s Disease is perhaps the most common form of dementia.
2. Why does my loved one repeat herself constantly?
Dementia affects short-term memory first, and that makes conversation difficult. Your loved one might not recall the question she just asked you or the answer you gave. For her, each time she asks, it feels like the first time. Showing frustration won’t help, because your loved one won’t understand why you get upset when she asks a simple question! Sometimes trying to break the pattern of conversation can help — redirect her attention by introducing a new activity or asking her a question.
3. Why is my loved one’s behavior so different now?
Unpredictable behaviors are one of the difficult symptoms of dementia. Sometimes dementia affects a person’s perception, so he may be reacting emotionally to something that is real only to him. If dementia is affecting his language skills, the behaviors may be an expression of frustration at not being able to say what he wants to say. And common age-related ailments like hearing loss and vision loss can complicate communication even further.
4. Is there anything I can do about these behaviors?
First, do not take anything personally. Remember that these behaviors are an attempt to communicate something. Figuring out the underlying message will require patience.
Second, be sensitive to the physical and mental changes that are part of aging and dementia. For example, make sure you approach her from the front where she can see you, never from behind or from the side, as you might startle her. Speak to her at eye level. Speak slowly, clearly, and in short sentences — and wait for a response before moving on. To help reduce anxiety, maintain a predictable daily routine.
Third, think about other physical needs that may be a factor. Is your loved one hungry? Does she have to go to the bathroom? Is she experiencing pain that she can’t describe to you? Does she have an illness or infection? Is there ambient noise that is upsetting or distracting? Is she tired? These are all things that affect our moods and our ability to communicate.
5. What’s the best way to communicate with my loved one?
We have found these simple tips to be helpful:
- Always identify yourself, even if you think the person “should” know you.
- Always approach from the front, so as not to startle the person.
- Always tell the person what you’re going to do before you do it. For example, “It’s warm in the house today. Would you like me to help you take your sweater off?” Then allow some time for the person to process the information and respond.
- If you are giving instructions about something you want the person to do, say only one step at a time. Let the person complete that step before you give the next instruction.
6. My loved one doesn’t sleep much anymore, and I am exhausted from caring for him. What can I do?
Do not feel guilty about needing to take care of yourself! It is not selfish to get the rest you need, and it is not a sign of weakness to ask for help. Options for professional caregiving help include:
- Hiring an in-home caregiver to care for your loved one for a few hours at a time, as often as you need it. (Providence At Home is the in-home care division of Providence Life Services.)
- Choosing a Memory Care program where your loved one can live full-time.
Providence understands the difficulties of caring for someone with memory loss. Our Memory Care staff are specially trained to give you the support you need. You can find out more about Providence Memory Care using any of the links below: