Dementia care is one of the most challenging caretaking roles for family members to assume. Even when they hire professionals for Alzheimer’s care, it can begin to take a toll. Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and other forms of memory impairment can cause drastic personality changes even before the memory loss begins to sink in. Family members often agonize over when Alzheimer’s is talking versus their loved ones, but this only complicates an already complex situation.
What Causes the Personality Changes?
Dementia causes lasting impairment to the brain, which impacts the way dementia patients treat those around them. Even healthy seniors experience brain shrinkage in old age, but neurons remain active. People with Alzheimer’s disease lose neurons at a rapid pace. The most commonly affected parts of the brain are those involving the following functions:
- Thinking adaptability
- Time management
- Working memory
- Self-monitoring and self-control
Why Is Thinking Adaptability Important?
Thinking adaptability is one of the most challenging areas to adjust to when affected because it can feed off all the others and compound the problem. Thinking adaptability makes it difficult for family members to explain to their loved ones that they are acting inappropriately or are wrong for other reasons. It can also make it next to impossible to convince people with dementia that their illusions are not real.
How To Manage Delusions and Hallucinations
When family members witness their loved ones experience delusions and hallucinations, they might feel compelled to talk to them about it. Because of the damage to thinking ability, most professionals recommend not doing this. Instead, here are some ways family members can cope with these incidents:
- Discuss medications with the doctor to determine if any might increase the likelihood of delusions and hallucinations.
- Remove any stimulus that has over-excited the person, such as turning off the TV.
- Distract the person by starting a different conversion or moving to a different room.
- Ensure rooms are dementia-proof, so the person cannot reach for objects to harm someone else, himself or herself.
- Refrain from arguing with the person and focus on comforting them instead.
How To Handle Memory Loss
Few things are as painful for family members as being forgotten by their loved ones. This is especially difficult for children and spouses of dementia patients. It is tempting to try to help people remember, but not all dementia patients respond positively. Here are some tips to consider:
- Determine the person’s emotional needs, particularly based on how dementia has developed and the symptoms he or she has.
- Become familiar with the responsibilities the person once handled to ensure these tasks are properly handled.
- Discourage the individual from driving and venturing out alone, even if he or she has not yet experienced a physical decline.
- Be patient when reintroducing yourself and consider whether it is worth reminding dementia patients of things that might cause pain, such as a death in the family.
How To Manage Paranoia
Paranoia is one of the most dangerous symptoms because it can cause dementia patients to show aggression in an attempt to defend themselves. These are some tips for handling these situations:
- Explain to people nearby who do not know that the individual has dementia.
- Consider whether physical affection is a safe way to reduce tensions.
- Use physical objects to distract the person and talk about these objects.
- Resist the urge to argue with the person.
- Reassure the person he or she is safe.
How To Manage Temper Tantrums
One non-profit organization discourages family members from trying to decipher when it’s Alzheimer’s or their loved ones talking. Instead, it recommends thinking of the kind side as the loved one and the mean side as the Alzheimer’s. This generally tends to help family members adjust better to the changes and react with more patience.
People with Alzheimer’s cannot control the impulses they have to say or do mean things. However, there are things family members can do that might reduce this behavior or the intensity of incidents:
- Remain calm to avoid feeding into the negative emotions.
- Look for causes of discomfort while also offering reassurance.
- Make written notes of what the potential triggers are and then avoid them.
- Visit the doctor for routine screens for infections as compromised immune systems can cause people with dementia to react more aggressively than usual.
- Attend an Alzheimer’s support group for caregivers and family members.
- Know when to take a break and allow someone else to take over.
Hiring professionals for dementia care is a sensitive topic, but one that family members should have sooner rather than later. The sooner in the process, the faster they can formulate a plan. Once a plan is in place, it becomes easier to protect loved ones and ensure they receive the Alzheimer’s care they need.
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