Dementia and Alzheimer’s is a challenge that some caregivers face for aging parents or senior loved ones. Coping with behaviors or personality challenges of aggressiveness, hallucinations, attempting to leave unfamiliar surroundings, and/or eating and sleeping challenges can be most difficult to address as your loved one mainly is not trying to be difficult but trying to live in an uneasy state and unable. This can worsen by changing the environment, stress and communication level.Behavior management for aging seniors with dementia

There are a number of ways to help ease stress and improve communication between you and your loved one. This article helps to address common concerns caregivers face with aging seniors who suffer from Dementia or Alzheimer’s and the accompanying symptoms.

  • The first step to behavior management is to establish common triggers that may provoke a stress response. How do you react to their stress?

Poor communication, tone or facial expressions can all play a role in triggering a stress response for those that have trouble communicating their frustration. Remember to take a breath and be compassionate with ease of tone, comforting eye contact with a smile can help de-escalate a stress response. Holding the person’s hand, listening to their frustration and asking short questions can help your loved one feel heard. Sometimes you may feel they are taking their anger out on you but try not to take it personally. You may be the only point of contact and frustration will occur. Try and lighten the mood by taking a walk, getting something healthy to eat or drink can help if they feel trapped and unable to communicate their emotions.

  • Remember to review your loved ones expressions and body language in turn. Did they seem irritable before they lashed out? What may have triggered the onset of the current behavior? 
  • Are they “hangry” (bad tempered due to being hungry)
    • Make sure they are eating healthy meals and drinking enough liquids to have consistent blood sugar. If they have spikes and crash, this could be a trigger.
  • Are they in pain?
    • As we age, our bodies get more achy, one may have a chronic condition that they live with a certain amount of pain that is being managed with medication. Are they receiving their medication on schedule? If one stops taking required medications or forgets to take a scheduled medication, this can be a trigger for discomfort and mood swings.
  • Have they moved to a new residence recently? The environment and atmosphere you create while care giving can play a large part in helping an Alzheimer’s or dementia patient feel calm and safe.
    • Keep their room clean and from potential hazards. Try to reduce potential stressors such as creaky or loud noises. Keep the room a calm color. Remove mirrors or lighting that may get in the way if they need to walk around their room.

Behavior Management Tips for Aging Seniors with Dementia

Help to defuse stress by trying different techniques to see which may work best with your senior loved one. 

  • Exercise
  • Art/Hobby
  • Cooking
  • Reminiscing on past memories
  • Music
  • Getting out of their environment
  • Visiting with a friend
  • Therapy animals

Exercise:

Daily exercise can be in the form of talking a walk around the neighborhood with a caregiver or family member. This can help to get them out to breath fresh air and take in a change of scenery. Playing music from their generation to dance or participate in seated exercises can help reduce stress. Many times, anxiousness can build when bored or due to mental health conditions. With regular exercise, this can improve circulation, reduce exercise and one can see a positive change in aggression or sleeping patterns. Some caretakers can take their loved one out in the neighborhood, or a covered area (such as a mall) for a walk to look at different sights.

Art/Hobby:

As a caregiver, you spend the most time with your senior loved one and should pick up their different interests. Maybe they like to paint, draw, or work crossword puzzles. All these hobbies can have a positive effect on stress and keep the brain activated. Try new hobbies that may be of interest, such as listening to different types of music, or painting with different mediums, such as water color, oil or acrylic. Ask around for those that have puzzles they may not be using to borrow to work on for an afternoon. Small challenges can help focus attention on a task in a positive way rather than focusing on negative thoughts.

Cooking:

If your senior loved one loves to cook, have them help prepare meals if they are able to safely do so. If they aren’t able to safely help any longer, have them sit and be a taste tester for new meals to try. Ask what types of meals they ate as a child and try to recreate them. The olfactory system, or sense of smell, is tied into tasting flavors and can trigger past memories. Tasty food with new flavors can be a fun experiment and may help them to reminisce about foods of their past. Even a simple dish like spaghetti and meatballs can help one remember childhood favorite foods that most individuals secretly (or not so secretly) still enjoy.

Reminiscing on past memories

Looking through old photo albums can help de-stress your senior loved one. Sometimes images can help recall happy memories that have been stored in their long term memory. It can be a good exercise for the brain to ask questions about where they were at, what they remember, and who they were with when the photo was taken.

Music:

Playing a favorite type of music can bring a smile to their face and change the feeling in the room if they appear to be depressed. Music can be played at any point of the day. Do they feel like dancing? Do they like to have peaceful music on during meals or a nap? Trying different types of music and doing a little research on the artist may be interesting to talk about. Ask what they like about a particular type of music. These questions can help focus their mind on topics and potentially aid in stress reduction.

Getting out of their environment:

Daily routines are important for health and well-being. It is important to get out of a routine where they are stationary in their bed or living environment even for a short period of time. Taking a walk, taking a ride, or even sitting in a different room separate from where they sleep can be beneficial to de-stress. You know your patient best. If they can’t tolerate trips, think outside the box and try new ways to help your senior loved one de-stress.

Visiting with a friend:

Humans are social creatures. Small groups or 1 on 1 social engagements usually can be beneficial compared to a large group of unfamiliar people that may increase stress. Spending time with friends or family in smaller settings changes the daily routine for a short period of time. This provides a little exercise of the mind and can reduce stress; however, be mindful of the length of time spent with others as your senior loved one most likely can weary and short stays would be best. 

Therapy Animals:

Therapy animals can help soothe stress or aggressive behavior. These animals are trained to be calm and docile. If your loved one loves animals, there are services available that can bring therapy animals for visits to them. If they live in assisted living or a nursing home environment, review the policy on therapy animals or discuss with the social worker on if there is an option for pet therapy visits specifically for those with Alzheimer’s or dementia.

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