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How to redirect difficult dementia behaviors (3 mistakes to avoid)

Uncategorized May 25, 2021

Hello Careblazers! Today, Let’s talk about difficult dementia behaviors. When your loved one is doing something that you are finding difficult, challenging, and something you wish would stop, you want to do whatever you can to get that behavior to stop. In many of my behavior posts, I’ve talked about redirection and how you can use redirection to stop that behavior. 


In today’s post, I want to share 3 of the most common redirection errors that are easy to make when it comes to redirection and I’ll give you 3 solutions you can use. By the end of this blog post, I want you to decide which one of these solutions you will use so that you are prepared and ready to respond the next time you're faced with responding to a difficult dementia behavior. Let me know which one you are going to try in the comments below. Also, I give a bonus tip on an activity your loved one may enjoy doing at the very end so don’t miss that.


Before I do, I want to invite you to check out my Care Course. It’s my program on how to manage caregiver stress without changing your loved one, without needing to hire more help, and without having to get everyone around you to agree or understand. You can click this link to learn more.


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


Let’s start with Redirection Error #1: We switch topics/focus immediately. 

Let’s say your loved one starts asking you the same question over and over again or saying the same thing over and over again. For example, They keep saying someone is trying to break into the house every night. When they start repeating themselves and telling you that someone is trying to break in, you may try to calm them, tell them no one is trying to break in and then change the subject. By doing this, you miss a huge opportunity in exploring further. Sometimes, we get scared to stay on the topic we are trying to change; because after all, we want that behavior to change. BUT, by doing this we miss an important opportunity to gather more information that can stop this behavior from happening ever again. Difficult  behaviors are truly an attempt to communicate something and meet a need. 


The initial approach of changing the topic quickly might work temporarily, but then hours later your loved one may be bringing up the fear of the neighbors breaking in. It doesn’t get to the bottom of what’s actually causing the behavior. When you’re open to exploring, you can ask questions like, “tell me why you think that”, "Why do you think they are trying to break in?” and “when do they try to do this?” 

Through that questioning, you may find some pretty interesting information like, they saw a story on the  news about people breaking in, or that they come up to the door sometimes and don’t knock before coming in, or something that doesn’t make any sense, like they do it everyday right after the school buses come in the morning. With that information you might be able to makes some impactful changes like turning off news on the TV, blocking news channels, or switching channels around news time. You may be able to let your neighbors know to always ring the door bell or knock the next time they are around if they normally don’t. If your loved one has this concern at the same time every day, you can “get ahead of the behavior” by getting your loved one involved in an activity just before the time of day she starts asking the questions. So before you actually try to redirect, please spend a few moments gathering some information about that behavior/question before the redirection. The information you find in those questions could possibly help stop that behavior from ever happening again down the line. 

Error #2 We try to redirect right away. 

This is similar to tip #1 but it focuses on the how quickly you try to redirect. Your loved one can often tell when you want them to change a behavior or stop a behavior so you try to switch focus right away. Your loved one starts doing something you find difficult, disturbing, challenging, troubling, and immediately you wan to redirect. You want to shift their focus and get them doing something else so they will stop the behavior. The problem with this approach is that it’s too quick and by trying to redirect too quickly, the behavior is actually likely to last longer.


This is one of those cases where you take an extra 2 minutes up front to help ensure your success rather than skipping those 2 minutes and then finding yourself still trying to redirect 15 minutes later.  


This is where you can make some general comments about what they are doing or saying, engage with them, acknowledge them, possibly even ask them some questions like I  mentioned in the first tip and THEN move them on to something else. 


Error #3: Our redirection is isn’t smooth. 

This is where your loved one is insisting they want to go home for example and you try to redirect them to eating a snack to get them to stop demanding to go home. The redirection is pretty blatant and clear that you just want theem to stop, they don’t feel like they are being heard or validated, and they persist in their behavior or questioning. This is where the first 2 tips come in handy by asking questions and validating and this is where you want to find what I like to call your “window of opportunity.” What thread in the questions or comments that you are engaging in can be used in the redirection.

For example, if we stick with the example of wanting to go home. You use tip #1 by asking questions, what do you miss most about home, what did you like about home...and then listening to those responses, you take something from those responses and look for the opportunity. Your loved one might say they loved watering the plants in the backyard. You then talk about how wonderful and beautiful plants are and that you’ve never been much of a gardener, you admire how great they were at gardening and you say, "Oh you know what, I have a plant back here that isn't doing well. I’m not sure what it is and how to care for it, maybe you can help me. Let’s take a look". Within a few minutes you’re looking at a plant and she’s helping you water plants. 


Error #4: When you redirect, try to make it something they would actually be interested in doing. 

Sometimes, we try to redirect to something that isn’t interesting or, even worse, something they don’t care about. For example, they may be talking about wanting to go home and you redirect with oh, look, it’s time to take medications. That’s probably not enticing. You want to consider things they enjoy, they would like,  and things they would feel good about; preferably something they even mentioned as you explored questions with them. 


Redirecting a difficult behavior is an art. It takes practice and the more you practice, the more natural and easier it becomes, I promise. If you want to dive deeper into how to respond to difficult dementia behavior, be sure to check out my behavior playlist here filled with videos on some of the  most common challenging behaviors. 

Bonus tip: if your loved one likes watering plants but you’re afraid they will spill water or drown the plants, give them a spray water bottle to use. 


Alright Careblazer, what approach do you want to try with your loved one and be sure to go to to join me inside my private program and become one of the next members of my Care Course, I can’t wait to welcome you!


I’ll be back next week with another post. Have a great week Careblazers!


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