It takes Two to Tango — or Tangle! Believe this when you are caring for a person living with Alzheimer’s disease. You need to learn to dance with your loved one. You must be willing to stop and back off! Being (right) doesn’t necessarily translate into a good outcome. People living with Dementia are doing the best they can do. You as the caregiver must be willing to change.
Remember, the person living with Alzheimer’s disease, their brain is failing, their brain is dying. You are going to have times of sheer frustration! Both you and your loved one will become frustrated. When we began to put ourselves in our loved ones place and consider how they may feel and why they may become angry and how we must have made them feel, we start to understand; (You want to dance with your loved one, not tangle with them.) Caregivers I encourage you to do with them rather than do to them. I want to share some practical ways of helping you better care for a person living with a condition of dementia. Remember dementia is an umbrella term and under that umbrella there are 85-90 different conditions of dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is the number one condition of dementia. These steps are provided on a pamphlet titled “Tips for Caregivers”, I have these pamphlets in my office at Sampson County Department of Aging. Dealing with anger is unavoidable when you are a caregiver of a person living with Alzheimer’s disease (for both caregiver and care recipient). People living with dementia sometimes become agitated, angry or violent. This behavior can become dangerous! The following tips are directly from the pamphlet I mentioned previously.
• Remember Anger is a Symptom: Try not to take anger outbursts personally. Remember that anger is often the result of loss of control or frustration. Look for early signs of frustration such as fidgeting. Try to distract the person before violent out bursts occur.
• Respond Calmly: Respond to anger and outbursts in a clam and direct manner. Speak in clear, short, easy to understand sentences. Make eye contact. Approach the person slowly and from the front.
• Look for Physical Causes: Check for physical causes such as pain, illness or constipation which may cause frustration and anger. Have a medical evaluation. Find out is the person is taking medications which may cause anxiety, hallucinations or paranoia. Find out if medications may decrease symptoms. Have a doctor check for impaired vision or hearing which may be increasing confusion.
• Reduce Stress: Avoid situations with a lot of noise, activity and people. This can create stress. Notice if the person is acting lost, confused or frightened. Calmly reassure him or her. Pay attention to your body language. The person may become agitated if you are angry or frustrated. Plan stressful activities such as bathing and dressing for when the person is rested.
Allow plenty of time for all activities and give clear, step by step directions. Try a daily walk to reduce stress. Provide soothing objects such as stuffed animals.
• Plan for Quiet Times: Make sure the person is getting enough rest and sleep. Mix quiet times with other activities. Try listening to quiet music or reading aloud.
• Avoid Confusion: Do the same things, such as eating dinner and taking a walk, at the same time each day. Limit choices which cause confusion.
• Provide Security: Provide a safe and secure environment. Avoid changes in home and caregivers when possible. When a change or a move is necessary, include familiar objects in the new home. Try to make changes gradually.
• Assess Danger: Make sure the person cannot hurt him or herself. Keep sharp objects put away. Try moving five steps back from the person to diffuse the anger. Avoid physically holding or restraining the person. This will often make the situation worse. If possible, take the person away from upsetting situations. Try to distract the person with a favorite food or activity.
• Keep Yourself Safe: If the person is violent, make sure you are safe. If necessary, stay out of reach or leave to avoid getting hurt. Call friends, family, neighbors, or your doctor for help. If violent episodes are repeated, make an emergency plan to keep you and the person safe.
• Evaluate Episodes: After a violent episode, don’t remind or blame the person. He or she will probably forget what happened. Look at what caused the problem. See if there is any way to avoid the situation in the future. Remember that by responding calmly you can sometimes help avoid outbursts.
I trust these ten tips will help you when caring for a person living with Alzheimer’s disease. I have many pamphlets in my office I would love to share with you! I have written this weekly article over a year now. I really hope it has been helpful in your caregiving role. I absolutely would love to hear from you. Please call me at 910-592-4653, keep in mind I work part-time and in the office on Mondays, Tuesdays and half a day on Wednesdays. You may e-mail me at [email protected] You may send a note to Sampson County Dept. of Aging 405 County Complex Road, Clinton, N.C. Let me know if “Dementia, Notes to Remember” have been helpful. I encourage all caregivers to attend our weekly Dementia Education/Alzheimer’s Support Group meeting the second Tuesday of each month at 2:00pm at the Department of Aging. Please keep in touch and hope you have a “Best Day Ever!”
Lesia Henderson is an aging specialist with the Sampson County Department of Aging.