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The Inevitable Changes: What to Expect When Caring for a Loved One With Dementia

by Shannon, December 17, 2018

When a loved one receives a diagnosis of dementia, it is common to wonder what changes are inevitable. While dementia has several stages and the disease affects individuals in a variety of ways, the more you know about how dementia works, the more you are able to navigate the changes and cope in a positive manner. 

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the most common symptoms of dementia affect core mental functions. This may include loss of memory, an inability to pay attention or focus, challenges with visual perception, reasoning and judgment and struggles with communication and language. As a result, as a caregiver or family member, you may notice changes in behavior.

As part of the Dementia series, the goal is to showcase some behavioral changes and provide you with tips on how to navigate these changes. 

Agitation: A Common Behavioral Change

Many people diagnosed with dementia experience mild symptoms while others experience much more severe symptoms. How you cope and respond can transform a severe symptom into a mild episode.

Here’s what you may notice as your loved one is coping with dementia:

  • Increased Agitation: As dementia progresses, you may notice that your loved one becomes more agitated. This may include irritability, sleeplessness, physical or verbal aggression. Aggression is often triggered by fear, lack of sleep, fatigue and even environmental factors that cannot be controlled. The patient often becomes more agitated when he or she feels a lack of control in life or when trying to complete daily tasks. 

How can you help?

Start by reducing noise and clutter in the home. Avoid having too many people present at one time as this can be overwhelming for individuals with dementia. A clear structured routine each day can also minimize the risk of agitation. Avoid moving furniture or changing up your daily schedule too often so your loved one has a sense of security.

People with dementia also need to feel as if they have maintained their independence. Allow him or her to do as much as possible and only jump in to help when it is necessary for safety reasons. Always acknowledge the frustration and let him or her know that you truly do understand.  

Repetitive Actions: Confusion Takes Over

While it’s common for older people to forget things here or there, when a person is faced with dementia – at any age – confusion takes over as the disease progresses.

Some common behaviors you may notice include:

  • Your loved one may repeat a word over and over while trying to decipher the meaning
  • He or she may ask a question several times, forgetting that the question was already asked
  • Impulsive behaviors that prompt him or her to complete an activity over and over, such as rewashing dishes or turning lights on and off

Common triggers for repeated behavior may include boredom, fear, anxiety or environmental factors, according to the Family Caregiver Alliance.

How can you help?

Reassurance is the best way to comfort a dementia patient who experiences repetitive actions. You can also try and distract the person with a conversation, dementia activities or even a snack or meal.

Do your best not to remind the person that he or she is repeating words, questions or phrases. This action helps safeguard their feelings and reduces the risk for agitation when they are aware that they are repeating themselves. Instead, just ignore the behavior and try to refocus the conversation.

Learn to recognize patterns that lead to agitation or repetitive actions. For example, your loved one may be hungry or have to use the restroom, yet instead, exhibits repetitive actions. 

Sundowning: Restless, Sleepless Behavior 

As your loved one moves into moderate or severe stages of dementia, sundowning is a common concern. Sundowning, according to National Institute on Aging, is when a person confuses day and night, which leads o trouble sleeping, disorientation, agitation and restlessness. 

Sundowning is thought to be caused by brain changes that affect the brain of a dementia patient. However, additional factors that could cause the behavior include:

  • Hunger or thirst
  • Depression
  • Pain
  • Tiredness
  • Boredom

How can you help?

When a person’s internal clock is confused, exposure to sunlight or light can help reset the body. Spend some time sitting by a window or take a walk to enjoy natural sunlight. Daytime rest is something your loved one may need, but limit nap times and avoid naps late in the day so he or she sleeps well at night.

A few things that may make sundowning even worse include:

  • Caffeine late in the day, commonly found in coffee or soft drinks
  • Consuming alcoholic drinks later in the day – this can also prompt anxiety or confusion
  • Too many physical activities during the day that can lead to being overtired 

As a caregiver, it is also important that you are getting the rest you need to properly care for a patient with dementia. Consider asking for dementia support or hiring an individual to assist when you need time to rest.

Paranoia: A Frightening Behavior for All Involved

As dementia symptoms and behaviors progress with the disease, one of the most difficult behaviors to cope with is paranoia. Your loved one may become unsettled, suspicious, jealous or even accusatory toward you. These behaviors stem from real emotions that are difficult to control. While it is difficult not to take the behavior personally, you may feel exhausted or disheartened when experiencing this behavior firsthand.

How can you help?

It is never a good idea to argue or disagree with a dementia patient experiencing paranoia. Instead, offer verbal and nonverbal reassurances. A phrase such as “I understand that you feel frightened” can help calm down your loved one.

You can also take measures to prevent instances of paranoia getting out of hand. For example, if your loved one suspects money or objects are missing, keep small amounts in his or her pocket or handbag.

Dementia Support is Only a Click Away

Support for people with dementia, as well as their caregivers and family, is crucial. Take time to educate yourself about the disease and ways to cope. While national online organizations offer dementia support and dementia activities for you to review, you can also reach out to local organizations that often host support groups and educational workshops for family members and caregivers.

In addition, lean on caregivers, such as the qualified staff from Care Indeed, to help with daily living. Life with any type of dementia is challenging and learning how to accept the challenge is the first step in living life. While you may struggle with grief and loss when coping with the symptoms as a patient, caregiver or family member, the support you need is only a click away.

Care Indeed is committed to providing you the support and in-home caregivers who understand your challenges and daily struggles at work and home. Learn more about how to get the support you need while living with Dementia todayContact us