“Love cures people. Both the ones who give it and the ones who receive it.”
— Karl Menninger
The above is a good quote to keep in mind. Dealing with agitation and/or dementia can be a marathon struggle. Choose your battles wisely and know that just because a person’s behavior might be bothersome to you, that does not mean it is an issue for a person with dementia.
If you’re stressed about a loved one’s behavior, first ask yourself: Is this person in danger? Is anything detrimental to his or her health? Do I really have to do anything? Or might I be making a mountain out of a molehill?
Here’s a good example: Your loved one is getting dressed — with multiple layers of clothing. This is a change from pre-dementia days. Before worrying, getting angry or trying to change anything, ask yourself: “Is it really hurting anyone?” If the answer is “no,” then let it go. Confronting someone with dementia about this and making him or her change clothes, could produce agitation, and possibly an angry outburst. Remember: Your goal in this type of situation is to prevent or divert any stimulus that could bring on agitation.
As typical adults, we don’t like being told what to do. A person with dementia is no different in this regard. Being able to “go with the flow” on your part will go a long way; concentrate more on the issues that are truly serious enough to address. If you can do this, you and your loved one’s lives will be much less stressful.
We must constantly remember an underlying premise: People with dementia always need to feel loved, useful and needed. We must help create an environment that shows them love. We also must allow them to help as much as they want, and in so doing set them up for success.
A big tenet of this is coming to grips with “behavior acceptance.” As caregivers and loved ones, we have to realize unwanted behavior is part of the disease process and that there is a reason for it. When we think this way, we can respond more effectively to situations where agitation is present, as well as others that need attention.
What are some strategies for doing this? For example, instead of putting someone on the defensive with something like: “Your clothes are dirty. Would you please change into something clean?” You could phrase it this way: “Let’s go change our clothes so we an go to the store.” This directs action but it is less demanding of the person with dementia. By involving yourself, it comes off as less threatening.
Use this line of thought, if it will help: “We cannot control what comes our way, but we can control how we respond.” If our thought preparation is, “How can I best respond to this situation or behavior?” it averts putting the onus on your loved one as “the problem.” The person with dementia is not able to change, so we have to.