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3 steps to stop difficult dementia behaviors using redirection

Uncategorized Oct 25, 2020

Welcome back, Careblazer. Today I want to talk about a really important topic. Something that if you can start to practice can help reduce many stressful moments. How to redirect someone with dementia when they are doing or saying something that is challenging.

To watch the video on this topic, click here

In my care course, so many of my members talk about their loved ones and ask for my input on how to handle their challenging behaviors. For example, what to do when your LOWD follows you around everywhere or when they ask the same thing over and over or when they accuse you of something that’s not true, or when they are focused on something that is making them upset. 

And real quick, before we get started, My care course opens next week for a limited time. Be sure to add your name to this list so you don’t miss out. Click here to sign up. 

We already know that the approach of trying to reason or rationalize can make things worse, so what can you do? That’s exactly what I want to share with you today. I’m calling it the art of redirection, it’s really like a language. You are learning a new language because you are learning how to communicate with someone who doesn’t seem to be fully present in this reality. Their brains may be believing that people are breaking in and stealing things when they are simply misplacing things. They may be believing that you are stealing their money when you are helping to make sure they aren’t scammed out of more money. Oftentimes, your attempts to simply explain the situation backfires as they accuse you of not believing them and this drives a further wedge between you both. 


When it comes to redirection it’s important you keep an open mind, experiment, and just like learning any new language, it can feel awkward, strange, and unsure. You may not feel comfortable, you may not know exactly what to say or do, but you do what you can to communicate what you are trying to say. In the case of dementia, you are learning how to communicate with someone who is speaking a different language, and for you to have success you have to learn to speak that language. 


There are 2 main ways to communicate when you are trying to redirect. The first way is through your words and the second way is through your behavior. In both methods, the end result is that you will eventually redirect their attention to something else using the information you gathered from the communication to your advantage. I’ll walk you through all the steps with specific examples so this makes sense.


Let’s first talk about the approach of using words. 

When it comes to using your words for redirection, you want to avoid the rational response that they may resist. Instead, you want to: 

  • Validate what they are saying
  • Acknowledge the emotion behind what they are saying
  • Ask for further information in an interested and concerned way. 

So for example, let’s say your loved one is insisting you take them home - a place that doesn’t exist because they are in fact already home but their brain is telling them they aren’t. You try to reason with them that they are already at home will likely create more distress for your loved one and more frustration for you. So in this case, you 

  • Validate what they are saying “You want to go home.” At which point, they may respond "yes, that’s what I’ve been trying to tell you! Take me there now!
  • Acknowledge the emotion behind what they are saying. “You miss your home, you really like it there.” Again, they may respond with something like "yes!"
  • Ask for further information in an interested and concerned way. Now, this step is very important because you want to keep your ears open for an opportunity to redirect in a natural way using something they have said. For example:  “Tell me what you like most about your home.” or “What do you miss most about your home?” Or “Who lives at the home with you?” THEN, you take their answer and look for your golden opportunity. For example, when you ask tell me what you like most about their home, pay attention to anything they tell you that you can use now. If they tell you they liked the backyard plants and you happen to have a potted plant or some flowers somewhere you can eventually tell them, oh I saw some beautiful plants around the corner. Let’s take a look maybe you can help me figure out what they are...and before you know if you are on the topic of plants, you’ve moved them from their current position, You can then take the moment of being outside with the plant to noticing the bird in the sky, pointing that out, and then eventually getting on an entirely different topic. 

Let’s say you asked who lives at the home with you. You can hear their answer and ask them to tell you more about them. She sounds lovely, what are some of your favorite memories with her? How did you spend the holidays? Oh, I noticed a photo book over here, I think there are some pictures of her, let’s take a look. And then from there, you go through the books, you flip to pictures, you reminisce on holidays, trips, friends, etc. Before you know it, it’s an entirely different conversation. 


In a way, you go into their head, approach it, welcome it, and then from there, you can shart to turn it around onto something else entirely. So many of us want to change the subject immediately because we want their distress to go away or we can’t actually give them what they want. For example, you can’t actually take them to a home that doesn’t exist. BUT, when you try to do that right away, you haven’t met their need. You haven’t gotten them to focus on something else. This approach helps make that transition. 


Now the second approach in redirection is through behavior. You can still use the verbal communication strategies, but this one can surprisingly work wonders; especially if you are trying to redirect a physical behavior. In this approach, you essentially start an activity. You don’t even need to ask them to engage in some instances. For example, one Careblazer recently shared that his LOWD was following him around the home all day asking the same question over and over and over. He was getting frustrated as none of his answers were sticking. As soon as he’d answer, she’d ask again. So he decided to turn on some music and just start listening, singing, and dancing. Before you knew it, his loved one was getting into the music and for a while at least, he wasn’t having to answer her questions. What activity or behavior can you do to help with redirection? 

  • Music
  • Dancing
  • Stretches/chair yoga
  • Puzzle
  • Making a recipe
  • Picking flowers
  • Petting an animal
  • Looking through a photo album

Sometimes, just breaking the body up into something new and be enough to redirect your loved one onto something else entirely. It just needs to be something that keeps their attention. But be open and curious here. Try things even if you aren’t sure they will work. 


Because we are used to talking to people with well-working minds and who can follow along in a conversation with little to no difficulty, our brains want to respond to our loved ones directly. We want to respond to their question directly, but in some cases, you may not even need to respond at all. You may just be able to turn on some favorite tunes and start dancing to get the topic to change. 


Now, these approaches, especially the language approach takes some time to get used to. Just like learning any new language takes time. But by keeping an open mind and being willing to experiment, you may just find yourself being able to shorten just how long some of the most challenging behaviors last and that is worth doing.

If you want the opportunity to join me and my care course members in working through some of these challenges in a way that supports you and helps you lower your stress, be sure to sign up on my care course waitlist. It opens in one week and you’ll be the first to know. It’s where all my best work is housed and where I get to work personally with you on your situation. Sign up here.


I’ll be back next week, Careblazer. In the meantime keep up the great work.


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