As your mom’s dementia or Alzheimer’s progresses, she may exhibit behavior that makes it difficult to conduct daily care. That might include aggression, agitation, confusion or sadness.
Even if you aren’t her primary caregiver, coping with your mom’s challenging behavior can be emotionally taxing. There are steps you can take to mitigate her symptoms to avoid distress and discomfort.
Why People with Dementia Become Agitated
Often, a negative behavior has a specific cause that needs to be addressed. Once you deal with the root of the issue, the behavior will likely stop.
Agitation may be caused by:
- Physical pain
- Loneliness or depression
- A change in routine
- Confusion about a location or person
- Overstimulation caused by too much noise or too many visitors
- A reaction to a medication
- A sedentary lifestyle that doesn’t include physical activity or socialization
- A vitamin or mineral imbalance
- Toxins in the body such as mold, mildew, mercury or lead
How to Cope with Agitated Behavior
Listen: Allowing your mom to vent her frustrations is the best thing you can do when she’s emotionally distraught. Work with her to identify the cause of her discomfort and develop a solution to soothe her mood.
Speak calmly: Addressing her in a similarly distraught tone is never a good approach. If your mom is becoming upset, take a step back until she settles down.
Direct her attention elsewhere: Use personal objects, photos or activities to redirect her energy productively. Give her something to fiddle with, take a walk or play quiet music. Focusing her attention on positive things will distract her from her distress.
Use a tactile approach: Hold your mom’s hand or gently touch her arm to provide comfort. Physical touch creates a grounding effect that can recenter her during times of high anxiety. However, that approach is not for everyone and may exacerbate agitation. Ask your mom if she needs space before approaching her.
Address her reality: Live in your mom’s mental landscape, don’t try to bring her into yours. If she sees a hallucination or says something wrong, don’t correct her because it will likely upset her. Go along with her statements and create a solution that matches her reality.
Identifying and Managing Aggressive Behavior
Being physically or verbally combative is a common symptom of cognitive change. That may include harsh or hurtful speech, manipulation or physical violence. Aggression is often caused by fear or a feeling of being out of control.
Aggressive behavior may occur at a specific time of day, which is usually caused by Sundowners Syndrome. Your mom may feel more confused in the late afternoon or evening and become distressed, causing her to lash out at your or a memory care staff member.
So, what can you do to help her?
- Give your mom space so she doesn’t harm herself or others.
- Remove any objects that pose a fall or tripping hazard.
- Don’t attempt to restrain her physically.
- Allow her time to calm down before speaking with her using simple and direct statements.
- Use calendars, clocks and notes to clarify the time of day if she’s sundowning.
- Reduce background noise and clutter to eliminate distractions.
- If there are multiple visitors, ask them to step out of the room.
Medication, vitamin supplements and detoxification methods may be necessary to address emotional changes, but medication should only be considered after exhausting other behavioral strategies.