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Managing Challenging Behaviors in Loved Ones with Memory Loss

The Alzheimer’s Association tells us that the main cause of behavioral symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia is the progressive deterioration of brain cells. However, other factors – such as pain – can also cause symptoms or make them worse.

As a result, loved ones with memory loss can act in different, disturbing and unpredictable ways. Some people become anxious or aggressive. Others repeat certain questions or gestures. Many misinterpret what they hear.

These types of behaviors can often lead to misunderstanding, frustration and tension, particularly between the person with dementia and the caregiver.

Knowledge and Understanding Is Important

Crystal Yost, PCHA, PCH, Administrator at Impressions Memory Care at Bryn Mawr in Bryn Mawr, Pa., says, “Understanding is an important first step in coping with and managing the symptoms of memory loss. Although you cannot stop the unpleasant behavioral changes caused by progressive memory disease, it is important to understand – and remember – that the person with the condition is not to blame.

“Because loved ones do not have control over the progression of the disease, caregivers must separate the effects of the disease from the person they’ve known and loved. This is important since the changes to your loved one’s brain and their resulting behaviors will only increase over time.

In the early stages, people may experience behavior and personality changes such as irritability, anxiety and depression. In later stages, other symptoms may occur, including anger and agitation, aggression, apathy, pacing, wandering and delusions.

“The role of a caregiver can be an increasingly difficult one over time. Therefore, it is imperative for caregivers to prepare an effective coping strategy for themselves that will also be beneficial to their loved ones. Fortunately, there are many valuable resources available today, including those of us at Impressions Memory Care.”

Tips for Managing Your Loved One’s Challenging Behaviors

Experts advise that when creating an overall coping strategy, is important to assess your loved one’s environment in order to eliminate or reduce their “triggers” for problem behavior. This will not only improve your loved one’s quality of life, but yours as well.

Several professional sources, including the Alzheimer’s Association article, Treatments for Behavior,” provide helpful suggestions for managing the difficult behaviors of Alzheimer’s disease. For example:

  • General Emotional Distress –Monitor your loved one’s personal comfort regularly. Check for pain, hunger, thirst, constipation, a full bladder, fatigue, infections and skin irritation. Maintain a comfortable room temperature.
  • Anxiety and Agitation – Try to create a calming, tranquil environment. Be patient and try to project an air of calm. Eliminate loud noises and use soft, relaxing music and ambient “white noise.” Activities such as pet visits, art and music therapy, and regular exercise such as daily walks, have also proven effective in reducing the level of stress-related behaviors.
  • Anger or Aggressive Behaviors – It is suggested that you do not confront your loved one or try to discuss their angry behavior. The best advice is to allow them some time and space to “decompress.” You can also try to distract them with a favorite activity or topic.
  • Wandering – Wandering is a common behavior and may result from your loved one being hungry, thirsty or in some discomfort. Wandering can also be triggered by boredom, anxiety or a lack of exercise. It is best to address the cause or source and to attempt to re-channel the wandering into a more appropriate activity.
  • Difficulty with Communication – Try to be very simple and concise in your communications. To understand your loved one, you may have to interpret what they are feeling or attempting to express as their words may not be clear.
  • Evening Restlessness or “Sundowning” – To control your loved one’s increased agitation in the early evening, try to increase their physical activity during the day and monitor their napping schedule. It is also important to monitor and limit their use of products with caffeine and to keep their environment as calm and tranquil as possible in the evening.
  • Hallucinations and Suspicions – It is not productive to argue with your loved one about what is real and what is imagined. Instead, try to focus on the emotions your loved one is feeling. Provide simple explanations for accusations without being confrontational.
  • Sleep Issues – Be aware that confusion and over-stimulation during the day can result in increased restlessness and insecurity at night. Try to encourage a regular sleep routine that is normal for your loved one.
  • Eating Problems – Try to reduce any distractions when your loved one is eating. In addition, regular exercise is strongly encouraged to increase their appetite. Be sure to monitor their medications as some may interfere with their desire to eat.

Adds Crystal, “By following these tips, you can reduce your loved one’s challenging behaviors while also lessening the amount of stress you face as an at-home caregiver.Also, remember never to take things they say personally. Keep in mind it is “the disease talking,” not the person you have loved for so many years.”

Finally, begin to set up a care support network as soon as possible with other family members, close friends, community resources and national support resources, such as the Alzheimer’s Help Center. No one person can do it all. And you deserve a life, too!

Your Dependable Resource for Memory Care Information

More than a homelike haven for exceptional memory care services, Impressions Memory Care at Bryn Mawr also serves as an important educational resource for at-home caregivers. We invite you to view our monthly articles and tips on memory care regularly. They are there to make your life as a caregiver easier and to improve the quality of care you offer to your loved one.

We Would Love to Hear from You!

If you have comments or questions about our blog, we’d love to hear from you. We also encourage you to share any of your caregiving experiences in our comments section.

Engaging Days. Meaningful Moments. 

Loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease or other memory impairments require specialized care and support. They also deserve a lifestyle rich in dignity and fulfillment. Impressions Memory Care at Bryn Mawr provides residents with Engaging Days and Meaningful Moments that emphasize individual abilities, encourage socialization and promote the highest level of independence possible. We offer a complete continuum of leading-edge programs, services and amenities that address the total physical, emotional and social needs of residents in a caring setting that offers individual suites with large private baths and the comforts of home. Our community touches hearts and changes lives.

Helping Families Be “Family” Again 

Memory loss caused by Alzheimer’s disease, dementia or another form of memory impairment doesn’t only affect the person who has it – it affects the entire family. 

If you have a loved one with early- to mid-stage memory loss, you know how challenging it can be to provide the care that’s needed while trying to maintain balance in your life. As care needs increase, you may not be able to meet them physically or emotionally. It’s often difficult to be available to care for your loved one’s health and well-being around the clock.

If and when the time comes to seek additional help, place your trust in Impressions Memory Care at Bryn Mawr. We lift the stresses and worries of being a caregiver from your shoulders, enabling you and your family to enjoy time with your loved one again. 

For more information, please call Sharon at (484) 380-5404 or contact us online.

Disclaimer: The articles and tip sheets on this website are offered by Impressions Memory Care at Bryn Mawr and Main Line Senior Care Alliance for general informational and educational purposes and do not constitute legal or medical advice. For legal or medical advice, please contact your attorney or physician.