Welcome back Careblazer.
Today I want to talk about 5 simple ways you can improve difficult dementia behavior. By far, the majority of emails and questions I receive from Careblazers are about how to get their loved one to stop doing something or to change doing something.
Today I’m going to share 5 general and simple things that you can do to increase the chances that your loved one’s behavior will improve, and in some cases maybe go away all together. I love hearing from Careblazers who start to implement some of these strategies and then write to me excited that their loved one seems to be better and happier. I hope you’ll have the same results. After all, when you LOWD is doing well, you tend to do well too.
Before I get into the 5 tips, I want to personally invite you to my upcoming live Q & A session I’m hosting in a few weeks. It’s free and I’ll be spending the entire time answering as many of your caregiving questions as I can. I look forward to seeing you there. To save your spot, click here.
Alright, let’s dive in and let me know in the comments which tip you plan to work on first.
Your facial expressions matter a whole lot. In dementia, the brain starts to have more and more difficulty understanding words. You could be saying the most loving and kind words, but if your face looks tense and stressed, you LOWD will be more likely to show some difficult behavior.
Think about how stressed you probably look when you are trying to get your loved one to get dressed or take a bath. How stressed you might look when you are trying to leave the home and make it to work or an appointment on time. You might be saying all the right things like, “I love you. I’ll be home soon. I’ll make your favorite dish for dinner.” But if you are saying that while rushing around the home, while tense, and while looking stressed, your loved one is going to be noticing that much more and getting signs that something must be wrong.
Tone of voice:
This is similar to facial expressions. Again, in dementia the ability to fully understand and follow sentences starts to decline. In these cases, the way you say your words matters a whole lot. When you say something quickly, sternly, or while stressed, you are increasing the chance that your loved one will respond in a negative way. Think about how you can say the same thing but with a more gentle and soft tone. So instead of, “It’s time to take your medication.” it’s more soft, “oh look, it’s time to take your medication.” Same words, different tone of voice. Your loved one is going to be picking up on the sign that whatever you are saying sounds pleasant.
It’s a natural habit to see someone doing something wrong and want to offer help or correct them. If we did this for our LOWD, we would spend a lot of our time correcting them. In many ways, this tip requires you to let go of how you would prefer to get things done for the sake of improving your relationship with your LOWD, improving their confidence, and reducing the chances that they will show signs of frustration, anger, and resentment toward you. The basic rule of thumb here is that if there are no safety concerns in what they are doing, then let them do it the way they are doing it. If they are putting a puzzle together the wrong way and they aren’t showing signs of being frustrated by it, let them continue putting the puzzle together the way they want. If they are putting their socks on inside out, let it be. If they are talking about someone and use the wrong name, it’s okay. Avoid that urge to correct. If they tell you they went to the store yesterday when they actually went last week, who cares. Acknowledge what they said and move on. This alone can do wondering for building, repairing, and improving the relationship you have with your loved one.
Avoid saying no:
No one really likes being told “no” and in dementia, when if feels like so much freedom and independence is taken away, it’s even more important to avoid this whenever possible. Many times, the word “no” is a trigger that leads to anger and arguing. It doesn’t mean that you allow them to do whatever they way. It just means you find other, more creative ways to say no. So instead of saying “no” to can they buy a new car. You might respond with something like, “Man I wish we had all the money in the world to get what we wanted” and then change the subject. Or “that would be nice, it just isn’t in the cards right now. You know what we can do though? We can go for a car ride later. We can take a look at the wild flowers along the side of the road.” Or you can say, “Oh a car, that sounds exciting. Tell me what kind of car you are thinking about and engage them in a conversation about the car.” In the end you don’t even need to outright answer their question at all. You just move on. So much about dementia communication is about learning how to have a conversation without necessarily directly answering what they are saying. So get creative, just because you aren’t saying no, it doesn’t mean you are saying yet.
Many times when someone with dementia believes something so outrageous or impossible, we want to not only correct them, we want to prove to them with evidence and facts about why they are wrong. This is usually well-meaning but leads to a lot of frustration and difficult behavior. So in the cases where your loved one is believing things that are not true, “common examples include they may think you are having an affair, they may think people are breaking into the house and stealing their silverware, they may see imaginary people or animals in the home that aren’t there. Instead of correcting them and trying to explain to them how all those things aren’t true (aka reasoning), you acknowledge what they said and you focus on the emotion behind their words. You don’t necessarily need to stop them from what they believe. Here are some quick examples:
Your LOWD says they have to work tomorrow, rather than reminding them they’ve been retired for 20 years, you say something like, “You really like working, what’s your favorite part?” You get into a conversation that avoids an argument all together.
If your LOWD says there is a stranger sitting next to them on the couch even though no one is there, you can say something like “Oh, let’s figure out what’s happening here.” and move your loved one to another room, or give them something to occupy them - a good snack can work good here, while you “remove” them from the room.
If your LOWD says you are having an affair, “you can respond with something like, “I love you so much, I could never imaging life without you.”
Notice how none of the above ways corrected them or offered them rationale reasons, something that is so natural for us to want to do, but those ways lead to arguments and resentments from your LOWD.
Careblazer, here is my challenge to you. Take one of these tips and apply them to your caregiving situation every day for at least a week. Take note of how much less frustrated you and your loved one become as all the arguing starts to go away and your relationship with one another improves. Let me know which one you plan to try first in the comments below.
Don’t forget to sign up for the free live Q & A session happening in a few weeks. Feel free to invite any of your friends, family members, and support group members. It’s open to any dementia caregiver.
I’ll be back next week. Until then, keep up the great work!