Dementia Triggers

Seniors suffering from dementia can become upset very easily, and often times take out their anger on the ones who care for them. This anger can come out in many different ways like screaming, pacing around the room, or asking repetitive questions. In these sensitive situations, it can be very difficult for caregivers to understand this type of aggressive behavior, but understanding more about the person and their dementia will help caregivers respond in a way that’s helpful and preserving of both sides’ dignity.

It’s very important for people to realize that seniors suffering form dementia aren’t acting out to be difficult, but because they’re dealing with internal struggles that aren’t being met, it’s hard for them to communicate these thoughts and feelings to their caretakers. Diminishing verbal skills is a common part of dementia, as well as a few other cognitive declines.

Dementia: What is it?

Dementia is a decline in memory or cognition that impacts a person’s ability to perform normal functions. An article on Patient Rising’s website points out that “dementia” isn’t necessarily a disease itself, but it's the term used to refer to its effects on memory and thinking that are caused by other diseases like Alzheimer’s, thyroid imbalances, major depression, and vitamin deficiencies. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60 percent to 80 percent of dementia cases.

If you notice the senior in your life has become forgetful—forgetting where they put things down, struggling to remember what they had for meals prior in the day, repeating certain thoughts or questions— it may be a good idea to have them examined by a medical professional to screen for dementia. Doctors utilize several tools to complete memory assessments for senior patients, so if you feel forgetful yourself or notice the senior you care for struggling, contact your local physician immediately.

Common Triggers

By taking the time to explore and consider the triggers that are causing the senior you care for to be upset, you will likely understand how to better communicate with them, predict future upsets, and make life a little easier all together. Sunrise Senior Living’s website proves these common triggers to look for:

  • -An environment that is overwhelming to their senses (a place is too loud or too crowded).

  • -Being surrounded by too many unfamiliar faces, including having too many caregivers at a time.

  • -A change in environment (e.g., going to visit a place they haven’t been before or making changes to their assisted living apartment or suite).

  • -Being hungry or thirsty or in need of a bathroom.

  • Having someone approach too quickly or from the side where their peripheral vision might be impaired.

  • -Being confused about their location and how they got there (even in a once familiar environment).

  • -Having someone talk too loudly or forcefully to them.

  • -When personal space is invaded, whether it is by a friend or family member or a stranger when you are out in a public place.

  • -Misunderstanding directions or questions from a loved one or a conversation that is occurring nearby.

  • -Being startled by a loud noise or by loud voices.

  • -When an environment is too hot or too cold to get comfortable i.

  • -Feeling demeaned or disrespected by friends, family, or caregivers.

  • -Low self-esteem caused by an inability to communicate and care for themselves.

  • -Side effects from, interaction with, or adverse reaction to medications.

Listen, Think, Respond

Some of the more common triggers for dementia like a change in environment, having personal space invaded, or being emotionally overwhelmed may be easier to handle if you mentally practice your response before you react. The nature of caregiving can be taxing on your mind, body, and soul, so being able to respond to these behavior expressions maturely will help keep your attitude, and morale high.

Scenario: The senior you care for is resisting from doing day-to-day activities like eating their breakfast, showering, or taking their medications. These decisions to reject daily activities can have a harmful effect on their physical health, as well as their mental health. It’s very important for people with a deteriorating memory to have a routine because it helps them stay on track and feel like they’re living normal, healthy lives. Refusing to do the things that keep them active and healthy is not because they want to be difficult, but because they’re confused.

These scenarios have the potential for seniors to get aggressive with their speech or physical reactions. This aggression, most of the time, is a result of fear. Wouldn’t you feel helpless and afraid if you couldn’t remember why you were doing things that don’t seem right or comfortable? Mood swings may become more frequent in the later stages of progressing dementia, so it’s important to know how to redirect their emotions.

How to React: Make sure to fully explain the importance of the activity to the senior in a positive tone of voice. If they don’t want to get out of bed, encourage them with speech that’s calming so you don’t force them into more stubborn behavior. Don’t become pushy or annoyed, because it will rub off on them and interfere with the trusting relationship that has been established.

Scenario: A senior is exhibiting confusion about a time or place, and saying things like, “I want to go home!” “Where are we going?” or “When are we leaving?”

Wanting to exit a situation and return back to a senior’s safe zone or home is a common behavioral trait of Alzheimer’s. Remember that Alzheimer’s creates damage to cognitive functioning, which is why it can cause memory loss and confusion. When a person’s memory starts to fail, they can experience some former memories where they once had more control in their lives and may want to go back to that mindset.

How to React: There are a few possible ways to react to the senior you care for during times they feel confused. Uncomplicated answers with short explanations may be the best route for some. It can also be helpful for you to keep photos on hand to have a visual reminder for seniors of why they’re going somewhere, and that they’ve been there before. If they start to ask specifics about why they need to be somewhere at a certain time, try responding with things like, “We need to leave at this time because there could be traffic,” or “The weather is looking better for travel around that time of the day.” In return, the senior should be more accommodating because of the familiar setbacks provided, that could help them understand the importance of staying on schedule. It’s all about making that person feel safe and well communicated with.

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