Dementia is often talked about as if it’s a specific illness or disease, but it’s not. According to the Mayo Clinic, “….dementia describes a group of symptoms affecting memory, thinking and social abilities severe enough to interfere with daily functioning.”

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, “When Alzheimer’s [or dementia] disrupts memory, language, thinking, and reasoning, these effects are referred to as “cognitive symptoms” of the disease. The term “behavioral and psychiatric symptoms” describes a large group of additional symptoms that may occur.

In the early stages of the disease, people may experience personality changes such as irritability, anxiety or depression. In later stages, other symptoms may occur, including sleep disturbances, agitation, physical or verbal outbursts, general emotional distress, restlessness, pacing, delusions or hallucinations.”

Having these symptoms can make day-to-day life challenging for the individual diagnosed with dementia and for that person’s caregiver. But over the course of the day, there are things that a caregiver can do that will help themselves and their client or family member experience greater success and an improved quality of life. Here are a few tips.

How to Greet or Say Hello to Someone with Dementia

According to the blog, Joyous Paradox, using the following techniques can help initiate and maintain a positive interaction between a caregiver and their client or loved one.

  • Approach the person with dementia from the front. This helps them see you coming and prepares them for the interaction.
  • Move slowly as you approach. This makes it easier for them to process what’s happening, cognitively.
  • Stand to the side. This will be perceived as a supportive, rather than as a confrontational, position.
  • Bend down or squat, if the person is seated. This brings you to their eye level.
  • Say their name and tell them your name. This helps them “place” you.
  • Hold out your hand at their eye level and shake hands. This helps you to communicate with the kindness of human touch, safely and respectfully.

Helpful Hints During an Episode of Agitation

The Alzheimer’s Association suggests the following:

Do: Back off and ask permission, use calm positive statements, reassure, slow down, use visual or verbal cues, add light, offer choices between two options, focus on pleasant events, offer simple exercise options, or limit stimulation.

Do not: Raise your voice, take offense, restrain, rush, criticize, ignore, argue, reason, explain, show alarm, or make sudden movements out of the person’s view.

Say: May I help you? Can you help me? You’re safe here. Everything is under control. I apologize. I see that you are upset. I know it’s hard. I will stay until you feel better.

The Family Caregiver Alliance offers additional strategies for dealing with the troubling personality and behavior changes that often occur in more advanced stages of dementia. The Alliance suggests that these challenges are best met “by using creativity, flexibility, patience, and compassion. It also helps to not take things personally and maintain your sense of humor.”

  • We cannot change the person, but we can adjust our plan to meet their needs. Your client or loved one has a brain disorder that shapes who he has become. When you try to control or change his behavior, you’ll likely be met with resistance. Instead, try to accommodate the behavior, not control the behavior. For example, if the person insists that it is breakfast time, then give them breakfast food, even if it is time for dinner.
  • Behavior has a purpose. People with dementia typically cannot tell us what they want or need. If they do something like take all the clothes out of the closet, it is very likely that the person is fulfilling a need to be busy and productive. Always consider what need the person might be trying to meet with their behavior and, when possible, try to accommodate them.
  • Behavior is triggered. Understand that all behavior is triggered – it occurs for a reason. It might be something a person did or said that triggered a behavior, or it could be a change in the physical environment. The key to changing behavior is disrupting the patterns that we create. Try changing the environment or using different words or a different approach.
  • What works today, may not work tomorrow. The many reasons behind troubling behaviors, plus the natural progression of the disease, mean that solutions that are effective today may need to be modified tomorrow – or may no longer work at all. The key to managing difficult behaviors is being creative and flexible in your strategies to address whatever the issue may be.

photo credit: Ars Electronica Merkwürdig via photopin (license)