How many people out there are struggling to care for their elderly parents? It seems like the number is continuously on the rise, and one sentence we often hear at Starts at 60 is “My mother’s (or father’s) dementia is getting very hard to deal with”. We have to say: you’re not alone.
Contrary to popular belief, dementia and Alzheimer’s are not just cognitive disorders – they can affect the whole body and person’s behaviour.
Carers of someone sick with dementia will know the spectrum of behaviour issues is very broad, from angry looks, harsh outbursts and rages to lots of hugs and seemingly lucid memories.
Understanding and dealing with our loved one’s Alzheimer’s behaviours is one of the most stressful parts of being a caregiver. As a carer, you know you can’t change the person with dementia.
Even though you want to, it can be different to remember that these behaviours do not define the person, they are just a by-product of the disease. If your loved one had the choice, they would probably choose to act in a much different way.
Here are some strategies for dealing with dementia behaviour:
You’ve probably heard your mum or dad say, “I don’t want to take a shower!” or “I want to go home!,” and then become violent. The first thing to remember is your loved one is not doing it on purpose, and it usually comes from fear, which in turn is caused by the neurological problems.
What to do: you know your loved one better than anyone, so try to calm them down and give them space. Don’t talk to them like a child, but don’t restrain them either. Take five and see if they will be ready to do it shortly afterwards.
One of the most common statements you’ll hear from a dementia sufferer is “This isn’t my house” or “Where am I” or “Where is so and so?”
Wanting to go home is one of the most common reactions for an Alzheimer’s or dementia patient who is not in their family home anymore. Alzheimer’s causes progressive damage to cognitive functioning and memory, which is a major reason why they feel so displaced. They may be trying to go back to a place where they had more control in their lives.
What to do: Comfort your loved one with photos or other reminders of the time or place they want to go to, or simply distract them with another activity. The goal is to make them feel safe.
People with dementia walk for a variety of reasons, such as boredom, medication side effects or to look for “something” or someone. They might also be thirsty, hungry or need to use the toilet or exercise.
What to do:
- Make time for regular exercise
- Consider installing new locks that require a key
- Have your relative wear an ID bracelet and sew ID labels in their clothes
- Tell neighbours about their wandering and make sure they have your phone number.
The loss of bladder or bowel control often occurs as dementia progresses.
What to do:
- Establish a routine for using the toilet.
- Schedule fluid intake to ensure the confused person does not become dehydrated.
- Buy a commode and leave in the bedroom at night for easy access.
5. Sexually inappropriate behaviour
This behaviour can be highly distressing and hard to deal with. This includes masturbating or undressing in public, lewd remarks, sexual demands and touching.
What to do: Stay calm and reassure, then distract. You may also like to purchase clothing that has a drawstring and is not as easy to undo if your loved one keeps stripping down.
Carers of dementia sufferers are often afraid to reach out in fear of a loved-one or government carer telling them they can’t handle it and the sufferer needs to go into private care. But you needn’t feel this way as there are many support groups out there that can assist you and even talk you through issues if you need it.
You can find support groups for carers here.