4 steps to help you decide if you should try to change unhealthy dementia behavior

Uncategorized May 31, 2020


Welcome back, Careblazer.

Today I want to address a topic that came up quite a few times during my recent Live Q & A’s. As you may know, a few weeks ago, I hosted several live Q & A sessions where many of you showed up and asked me your questions. Some of the questions I received had to do with the theme of the person with dementia doing something that wasn’t in their best interest, but the Careblazer just didn’t have the fight in them to do anything about it. Two specific examples that come to mind were from Careblazers stating their loved one drinks beer and another one who says their loved one smokes. 

I want to talk specifically about why it’s okay to choose your battles. Why it’s okay to let some things go. And how this doesn’t take away from the amazing care you are giving to your loved one. I hope this video will help give you a framework for how you can decide whether or not something is worth your effort or whether it’s okay to preserve your energy for other things. 

At the end, I’ll share the step by step process you can take to apply this to your own life. 

If you would rather watch my video on this topic, click here

So 2 of the questions I received during the recent live Q & A’s went something like this: 

“My husband, who has been diagnosed with dementia, is a non admitted alcoholic minimum 3 beers per day.  I am scared that if I insist on stopping the beer, I might be opening up something I can't handle, but I  know he shouldn't be drinking while on antidepressants.  Suggestions or advice would be greatly appreciated.”

“My problem is my husband who is living with Alzheimer’s is a smoker for all his life.  I am concerned he will burn our house or himself.  I do limit his cigarettes and make sure none are available for him during the night, but I don’t know what else to do.  I buy the cigarettes because he gets very angry if he doesn’t have them.  I know that’s stupid of me, but I am not up to the challenge  for the arguments if he is without cigarettes.  Any helpful suggestions will be wonderful.”

On the surface, many people might think, well yeah, smoking and drinking are bad. You’ve got to get them to stop. But both of these caregivers are saying they aren’t up for the challenge, they can’t handle it right now. Maybe at some point in the future, that will change, but right now, it’s too much.

So first, I want every Careblazer to be able to check-in with themselves. Know yourself. Trust yourself. Is this something you can take on right now. If not, and it’s not an imminent immediate safety issue, then perhaps just give yourself permission to table that issue for now.

Some of you might think, well smoking and not putting out cigarettes is a safety concern. Shouldn’t that be addressed right away? Yes and no. There is a safety risk that needs to be addressed, but there are ways to address that without having to tackle the battle of getting your LOWD to stop smoking. For example, some of the things I told his Careblazer were to keep the cigarettes, lighters, matches out of his reach. You physically provide him the cigarettes so that you know exactly when he is smoking and you can keep an watch on him during those times. 

Also, making sure there are smoke detectors in the home and that they work. By him not having direct access to the cigarettes, you cut down on the big safety issues because you know when he’s smoking so you can monitor those moments. 

But isn’t it unhealthy to smoke and drink, especially for someone with dementia on medications. Yes, but what will the cost be to trying to get that person to change? So for the Careblazer concerned about her husband drinking, some of the things I told her include: 

  • You give him the alcohol, so you control how much he gets. Perhaps a few are non-alcoholic without him knowing. Perhaps when he asks for another beer, you tell him sure thing, but then get wrapped up in something else before remembering to bring it to him prolonging the time it takes for him to get it. Perhaps you pour the beer in a cup and that cup happens not to have the entire beer in it. There are ways to limit the amount of alcohol he is getting without totally taking it away. When it comes to stopping alcohol use, you have to be careful, because suddenly stopping alcohol in someone who has consumed a lot over many years can be deadly. So you never want to stop cold turkey- always consult the doc. And then regarding the medication, inform the doc of your loved one’s beer habit. Make sure they are aware. Sometimes the fear in our mind about the actual risk is much more than reality and if there is a big concern, the doc can make appropriate adjustments. Finally, when it comes to drinking and dementia, falling is a big concern so you want to be extra cautious if your loved one is trying to walk after having a beer or two. 

So those were the gist of my responses to these Careblazers and I want to break this down into a framework you can use for yourself when trying to decide whether this is something to tackle in the moment or not. 

  1. Know yourself, Know your body. Trying to force a change, that mentally, emotionally, you can’t handle in the moment usually doesn’t go well anyway. It leads to more backlash and stress. So check in with yourself. Sometimes we are all so busy and distracted we don’t even realize we may not be up for something. 
  2. Ask yourself, Is this an imminent safety concern that must be addressed immediately? And if so, is there a way you can reduce that risk that doesn’t involve your loved one agreeing to change? If there’s not an immediate safety risk or there is a way you can reduce that risk, then give yourself permission to not tackle that issue. For example, someone with dementia smoking is a safety risk of burning the house down. But by restricting access to cigarettes and lighters and only allowing smoking under observation, this greatly reduced the risk. 
  3. Consider safety. Proceed without the judgement of yourself. Notice how in both of the examples above the Careblazers made comments like, “I know that’s stupid of me” or “I know I shouldn’t.” Judging yourself for being human, for not wanting to tackle really difficult things all the time only makes the situation worse. 
  4. Reassess with time. Perhaps down the road, looking at whether these are things you want to try to adjust and change is something you want to tackle. It’s okay to honor how you feel in the moment. It doesn’t mean you have to stay that way forever. 

I hope this 4 step framework can help you as you face the many challenges you face. If you want the opportunity to ask me a question live and get my feedback, then I invite you to sign up to be alerted the next time I open the doors to my Care Course. It’s my private program where I help you lower your stress, deal with the difficult caregiver moments, and offer you weekly question and answer sessions. 

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


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