(This article is by my colleague Paula Spencer Scott, author of the book Surviving Alzheimer’s: Practical Tips and Soul-Saving Wisdom for Caregivers. I invited her to share an article on this topic, since many in our community are coping with dementia behaviors. — L. Kernisan)
The odd behaviors of Alzheimer’s and other dementias can be so frustrating and stressful for families.
I’m talking about the kinds of behaviors that try patience, fray relationships, and drive us in desperate search of help:
“First she thinks the caregiver is stealing her sunglasses and now she accused me of having an affair.”
“When I tried to help Dad wash up, he hit me.”
“My husband follows me so closely I can’t stand it. But if I go in another room he’ll wander out of the house.”
“Mom started unbuttoning her shirt in the middle of the restaurant!”
“Just when I’m completely exhausted at the end of the day, he seems to get revved up. He keeps peeking out the windows, convinced that someone is trying to break in. Now he won’t sleep.”
A common approach to difficult behaviors is to go right to medicating them with tranquilizers, sedatives, or antipsychotics. But that’s risky and often not what’s best.
In fact, experts recommend trying behavior management first, and for good reasons: It tends to be more effective in the long run than “chemical restraints,” has no dangerous side effects, and leads to a better care relationship. But people often don’t know how to do this.
I’ve learned how.
I’ve lived through five close family members’ experiences with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Lots of trial and error, and insights from dozens of top dementia experts (whose brains I’ve been lucky to pick as a journalist and dementia educator), got me through regular scenes with…
- My father-in-law, who needed a walker to move yet spent hour after hour for several days straight hauling all his clothes and toiletries from his room to our driveway, insisting that his (imaginary) new wife was about to pick him up
- My dad, a formerly sharp dresser who wore the same shirt and pants every day no matter how dirty
- My grandmother, who insisted on going “home,” when she was home
- And other relatives, in dozens of similar scenes.
In this article, I want to share what I wish someone had explained to me early on: the “Why-This, Try-This” approach to dealing with difficult behaviors.
This is a mental framework that can help you get unstuck from unproductive responses that get you nowhere or make things worse.
It can bring calm -– to both of you — whether the issue is verbal or physical aggression, agitation, confusion, wandering, disinhibition, delusions, hallucinations, or a restless or repetitive behavior (like pacing, shadowing, rummaging). It also works well with milder irritants like repetitive questions and indecision.
Then, I’ll boil down the Why-This, Try-This concept to a 7-step process you can use every time. These “7 R”s give you a basic platform for responding to any frustrating behavior: [Read more…]