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Dementia Care: Understanding Behaviors and Managing Challenges

One of the most challenging tasks that caregivers for people living with dementia face is understanding certain behaviors and needs. Toxic changes in the brain destroy neurons and affect the behavior and emotional state of the person living with the disease. These changes can be stressful for the person and their caregivers alike and can lead to unnecessary conflicts.

Teepa Snow MS, OTR/L, FAOTA, suggests not thinking about dementia as a situation where there is only loss. “It’s not all about people who don’t do things and are not able to,“ said Snow in a recent Relias webinar. “It’s not inability — it’s a different ability. If we look at things that way, we might realize what they’re trying to do or the unmet need we could help with.”

Caregivers encounter challenges when caring for people with dementia. Learn how to manage them effectively.

Listen carefully

Caregivers often find it frustrating to hear repetitive stories from those they care for. Instead of expressing frustration, said Snow, caregivers should recognize that people with dementia don’t remember that they told the story before. They are trying to connect and engage with their caregivers. “We need to shift our interaction skills,” she said. For example, when the person asks, Did I ever tell you I was from West Virginia? you can say something like, Oh, West Virginia? Tell me about it, even if you have heard the story multiple times. By listening carefully and validating their experiences, caregivers can create a more comfortable and less agitated environment.

Using a Positive Approach to Dementia Care

Manage sundowning

Late afternoon and early evening can be particularly challenging for people with dementia, as they may experience sundowning and express their desire to go home or see a loved one. By listening to their stories and talking to them about their home and family, caregivers can help reduce stress levels and address their unmet needs. “Trying to figure out what the unmet need is, what comfort I can offer — that makes a difference,” said Snow.

Validate the person’s point of view

People with dementia may feel a loss of control when caregivers ask them to complete tasks. “You are probably going to get a pushback,” said Snow. When the resident is distressed, Snow suggests not saying, calm down and instead saying, Wow, I made you angry. By doing so, you recognize and acknowledge that the person doesn’t like what you are doing, and you validate their point of view.

Separate activity areas

Repetitive behavior in people with dementia can lead to confusion and potential safety hazards. When you use the dining table they had lunch on for arts and crafts, they might view the beads and strings as food and put them in their mouths. “You may not want to do craft activities on the same table. We want more clearly defined [areas],” said Snow.

Understanding and managing behaviors in dementia care is essential for healthcare professionals in every care setting. Caring for people with the disease holds many possibilities for improving their experiences. Skilled clinicians and caregivers should recognize the challenges that people with dementia encounter and employ strategies to ease their uncertainty, distress, and fear. Equipped with good dementia care knowledge, caregivers can provide comfortable, safe care and create positive experiences for persons with dementia every day.


Understanding Symptoms and Situations of Dementia

Leading dementia care expert Teepa Snow discusses the role that the reactions and responses of every member of your staff play in interactions with those living with dementia. The webinar will help you understand how to develop better communication skills by emphasizing the value of empathetic and supportive communication through effective verbal and physical skills.

Watch the Webinar →

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