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Tips On How To Calm Down Someone With Dementia

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If you’re caring for someone with dementia you may have experienced the very frustrating moments when they become distressed and begin acting out. This could look like screaming, banging, throwing things, etc.

A lot of people ask me how they can help someone with dementia. They realize that they cannot take care of their loved one like they used to and they want to do everything in their power to make sure they can live a long, happy life as well.

If you are at this point in your loved one’s life, I am here to tell you that you can certainly help.

Just remember that there are many contributing factors to why someone with dementia may be agitated or lashing out. Depression and anxiety are two of the most common reasons.

It is estimated that 50% of people with dementia experience some symptoms of depression, which can decrease quality of life, worsen dementia symptoms and increase carer stress. Anxiety is also common in people with dementia and has a similarly negative impact.

What can you do to calm someone with dementia down? – The answers are as unique as each individual person. But there are some general tips that I can give you.

On thing to remember is that dementia does not JUST cause memory problems. The way someone thinks is also affected. Their reasoning and judgement are often one of the very first signs (along with some memory problems) that someone is suffering from some type of cognitive decline.

9 Tips To Help Calm Down Someone With Dementia

Here are 9 very helpful tips that may help you and your senior loved one suffering from dementia to get through any moments of agitation.

1. Keep Your Cool

In other words – stay calm – don’t add to the stress. I know that can be very difficult at times so if you find that you are beginning to lose your temper – do your best to redirect to another topic or task. If possible, step away from the situation.

Talk to them in a positive manner. No matter what you do, it is important to remember to use a positive and calm manner when talking to your loved one. Don’t use negative words or phrases or a loud voice. Instead, talk to them in a loving way.

2. Check To Make Sure They Are Not In Pain

You want to make sure that your senior loved one is not hurt or in some kind of discomfort. Maybe they are hungry or thirsty. Maybe their shoes are tight, their diaper is twisted, maybe the lighting in the room is too bright – it could be any number of things or combination of things that could be causing them some form of discomfort.

It may also just be that they are not able to express to you that they are not comfortable so they end up expressing it via agitation and anger.

Anxiety and agitation may be caused by a number of different medical conditions, medication interactions or by any circumstances that worsen the person’s ability to think. Ultimately, the person with dementia is biologically experiencing a profound loss of their ability to negotiate new information and stimulus. It is a direct result of the disease.

Alzheimer’s Association

3. Listen To Your Senior Loved One

If your loved one is able to verbally communicate with you – take some time to listen to what they are angry or frustrated about.

Here are some tips on how to actively listen:

  • Pay one-on-one attention to your senior loved one
  • Make eye to eye contact with him/her
  • Be patient and give them time to respond to you
  • Do not patronize or ridicule them in any way. You may think you are making a joke but they may not be able to comprehend the nuances of your humor.
  • Acknowledge what they are saying by casually rephrasing their statement and responding to it
  • If they can tolerate physical touch put your hand on them which can show them that you are paying attention just to them

Make sure to listen carefully to what your loved one is saying. This will allow you to determine what their needs are. Remember that they are often confused and are having a hard time understanding words. Don’t push your own agenda. Just concentrate on what THEY are saying.

If they aren’t able to verbally communicate and are just ranting non-sensical words or sounds then work on comforting them by any of the following techniques:

  • Keep your body language calm and receptive to them by facing them, direct eye to eye contact and placing your hand on them (if they can tolerate it).
  • Try your best to show a pleasant and happy look on your face.
  • Keep your tone positive and friendly.
  • Approach your loved one from the front.
  • For some seniors with dementia, personal space is an issue so respect that.

4. Quiet Down The Environment

It’s much easier to calm someone down when there isn’t a lot of noise around.

For many of us, being in a noisy environment can be stressful – so you can only imagine how much more stressful that can be for someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s.

Of all the senses, hearing is the one that has the most significant impact on people with dementia in terms of quality of life. This is because dementia can worsen the effects of sensory changes by altering how the person perceives external stimuli, such as noise and light. As hearing is linked to balance this also leads to a greater risk of falls either through loss of balance or through an increase in disorientation as a result of people trying to orientate themselves in an environment that is overstimulating and noisy.

Social Care Institute For Excellence

So keeping the environment as “pleasant” as possible for your senior loved one may actually help to decrease the number of outbursts that he/she may be experiencing!

Don’t forget that lighting is a sensory stimulation as well. But this can be tricky because older adults need more light to see as well as they did when they were younger. Yet, if the lights are too bright – that may cause them some discomfort. You will have to play with the lights to see what works best for your loved one.

5. Clean Up The Environment

One of the mysteries of the aging process is why do dementia patients hoard? Dementia can cause an accumulation of mental clutter that takes years to get out of. This mental clutter can be a symptom of the disease or an indicator of it.

Along with a noisy surroundings you also want to simplify and declutter the surroundings as well.

I’ve spoken quite a bit about decluttering and the benefits of that for all seniors – but for the ones who are living with dementia – it holds significant importance.

The reason that a decluttered environment is more important for seniors with dementia is because of the effects that dementia seems to have on someone’s perception – meaning that their ability to distinguish one object or color from another may become distorted.

What makes decluttering a home of someone with dementia a bit more difficult is that hoarding is a fairly common symptom of dementia.

Persons with dementia experience memory loss, mental confusion, disorientation, impaired judgment and
behavioral changes. One of these changes may include “hoarding”. While hoarding is often harmless, it can become a health and safety issue for the person with dementia.

Alzheimer’s Association

6. Redirect To Another Topic

When I worked in nursing homes I often worked with patients with dementia and they would sometimes become agitated. One trick that I used that usually worked well was to redirect my patient to a new topic.

If I knew them and knew of a topic that they enjoyed then I would redirect them to that.

Here are some tips on how to use the Redirection Technique:

  • Don’t dismiss their feelings. If they are talking that they have to get to the doctor’s appointment (when you know there isn’t one) the thing to NOT do is to keep telling them that there isn’t an appointment. Instead, talk about what needs to be done at the appointment which is later. Ask them questions about what do they need from the doctor? How do they expect the doctor to help them?
  • Change the environment. If you can go into another room to work on a project or if you can go outside for a walk – that sometimes helps to get their mind off whatever they may be obsessing and becoming agitated about.
  • Present a new meaningful activity. It’s sometimes helpful to redirect your loved one to a meaningful activity. You could say something like, “Mom, I need these towels folded, can you do that for me please?

7. Enter Their World

Try to engage in conversation with whatever thoughts they are expressing. If they are talking about going to the prom with someone then talk to them about being at a prom, dancing and about high school, etc.

If they begin talking about a deceased loved one as if they are still alive – don’t remind them that the person has died – instead ask them about their memories of that person, be specific if you can. An example could be, “Dad, what kinds of games did you and uncle Mark play when you were kids?”

Try to keep conversations at a level where they will be able to understand them. By doing so, you are also helping them to relax. This will in turn help them function better once they begin to remember things. This is especially true if you have been assisting them with a difficult task for quite some time.

Sometimes – getting busy with a simple and fun activity may be helpful.

8. Be Careful With Touch

Some seniors with dementia can be calmed down with touch. A hug or simply hand holding. But others with dementia may not like being touched at all. So, please be aware of what your loved one can tolerate.

Some types of massage can help to calm someone down and improve overall mental and physical health. The key is to find the right one for the particular needs of the person you are trying to help.

9. Don’t Be Shy – Ask For Help

Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for assistance. Sometimes people need help to remember what they are supposed to be doing or to be listening to. It may be helpful to ask for help at various stages of your caregiving journey. This could be something that a professional such as a therapist or even your doctor can help you with.

There are also many online support groups that you can look into for help.

The bottom line is that while you need to know how to help someone with dementia, you do not have to do it alone. It is important to realize that the longer you wait to do something, the harder it will be. Once you begin to find a solution, the person with dementia will likely be able to feel better and to function properly again.

What Should You Not Say To Someone With Dementia?

Dealing with dementia is no easy task. The cognitive processes of the mind that controls verbal communication and the organization of thought and memory are particularly susceptible to deterioration with the progression of the disease.

It is not uncommon for conversations with a person diagnosed with dementia to turn into heated confrontations, angry outbursts, and outright hostility.

It’s difficult sometimes to remember that when speaking to someone with dementia, there are certain things that you should try to avoid saying. If you are regularly contacted by loved ones or friends with dementia, it is important to be aware of some of the worst things you can say to this person.

Generally speaking, you should do your best to keep your temper level whenever you are talking to them, especially when they are angry or upset.

Your tone of voice, your gestures, and your conversation should remain as calm and courteous as possible at all times.

You also want to keep your comments and questions as specific as possible and avoid using third person pronouns like “him” or “her”. Even if you are in the middle of speaking about a specific person, continue using that person’s name.

It may also be helpful to use gestures and point at items and places to draw their attention to something you are talking about. This can help your elderly loved one to associate what you’re talking about with a physical object.

Here are some examples of specific phrases to avoid when speaking to someone with dementia.

Can Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) Help?

There is some research being done on the benefits of using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (aka CBT) in helping seniors in the early stages of dementia to deal with depression and anxiety.

CBT is a specific type of talk therapy that works to help the patient become aware of their thoughts and feelings as well as their physical sensations and how all of these are promoting the negative thoughts and feelings that they are experiencing.

CBT practitioners are specifically trained to help their patients to change these negative thoughts and attitudes into positive ones.

Basically, CBT works to change your outlook from a glass half empty to a glass half full type of thinking. It does not work for everyone – but it has been useful for many adults.

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