Caregivers’ Corner: Dealing with Difficult Behaviors

By Friends & Neighbors June 15, 2014 08:05

joan-jackson-best--214x300Whether your loved one has dementia or is just having a hard and grumpy day, a few simple coping tools can help make life a little less stressful.

One caveat: No tool works 100 percent of the time. If one approach doesn’t work for you in a particular moment, try another one – or try the same one 10 minutes later.

1. Keep it simple: When the brain is not at full function, whether due to dementia, high stress or chronic pain, complex thinking is almost impossible. Dispense with too many choices and avoid long explanations. When you take dad to his favorite restaurant, skip the long, confusing menu and say, “Oh, they have your favorite chicken today. Okay if we order that?” The question only requires a simple yes or no. You know what dad likes.

2. Distract and redirect: When mom, in distress, tells you over and over, “I want to go home,” and you’re standing in the only home she’s had for 50 years, logic is not going to work. Your response might be, “We’re safe, Mom. Let’s get a cookie.” Or, “Wow, we have a lot of laundry to fold. I need your help.” The distraction can be a treat, a task or a total non sequitur – anything to interrupt her worry.

3. Time yourself out: When your wife has been raging at you for 20 minutes, and you know it’s the Alzheimer’s speaking, the “distract and redirect” tool may work – “I love you honey, let’s get a cup of tea.” If it doesn’t work, try saying “I’ll be back in a few minutes,” and with no additional explanation leave the room. Lock yourself in the bathroom and take a few good breaths or do a 10-minute stomp in the backyard. It’s kinder for her and for you.

4. Manage the truth: This is an important tool for a loved one who has dementia. If dad died five years ago and mom asks, “When is Harry coming home?” your response might be, “In a while.” She doesn’t need to relive the sadness repeatedly. If you know going to the doctor will be upsetting for her, don’t tell her ahead of time. The day of the appointment say, “We’re going downtown,” and simply take her.

5. Enter their reality: For people whose illness makes them delusional at times, try simply going with it. If dad thinks he’s going to work when he goes to adult day care, ask him about his day at the “office.” If mom has an imaginary boyfriend, instead of telling her he’s not real, ask her what he likes for dinner.

These are small examples, but consider how many different and creative ways you might use the tools. And finally, know that these can be used with respect and love. Each carries the kindness of making your loved one more comfortable and you a little less stressed.

Joan Jackson is a partner with Peter Carrillo in Practical Dreamer (588-1835), whose services include free caregiver support groups sponsored by Area 12 Agency on Aging.

Copyright © 2014 Friends and Neighbors Magazine

By Friends & Neighbors June 15, 2014 08:05
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