An interesting Blog from the Mayo Clinic this week puts the issue of control squarely on the table. “What stresses many of us on a daily basis is the battle for control. Persons living with dementia are no exception. Yet, think of how many times those living with dementia are told what they can and can’t do, often by people they don’t know or recognize.” And we wonder what might set Grampa Joe off on a rant.
“For persons with dementia the capacity to regulate emotion may be less intact. As the disease progresses, the ability to verbally express what they need or feel declines. As a result, they’re often labeled as having irrational or inappropriate behavior, when in fact they’re reacting in a way that makes perfect sense given the circumstances.”
There’s another side to the behavior issue. Imagine how you would feel inside if at every turn you discover just one more thing to add to a long list of things you can no longer do. I’ll go out on an unproven limb here and claim that even though someone can’t do or say what they feel or sense, internally they are visualizing what they once could do. They just can’t figure out how to replicate or communicate that image anymore. It’s G.D. frustrating. Like someone stealing your Trick or Treat candy one piece at a time. Every day is downhill inside your mind. “Arghhhhhhhhh! Stop!” You scream. “Can’t someone stop this?” comes with some choice expletive deletives – at least on the inside.
Professionals and family react alike to the behavior. Doctors prescribe anti-anxiety meds to keep the patient calmer (supposedly) and the family give those meds for the same reason – to control behavior they don’t understand. Are there alternatives? I would say yes, others might say no. Try some basic things first – background music that is familiar is often relaxing. Exercise can go a long way toward relaxing tensions – taking a daily walk when the weather is good. Since many or most people with dementia have difficulty reading, it may help to have as a regular daily activity to read out loud from a book your friend remembers fondly.
Triggering is an important tool – like in a good conversation, when one thing leads to another and another. Those “tangents” result from triggers – words that trigger an internal thought, an image, that opens a whole other door for the brain to focus on.
Food is not an answer. TV is not an answer. Arguing is definitely not an answer and can often lead to physical confrontation. An authority on Alzheimer’s here in Maine once told me “Never argue with someone with dementia,” and then she proceeded to do just that with me.
Social activities are very beneficial for people who have become isolated for any reason. That’s why we at MemoryWorks started Memory Cafés – so you’d have a place to go for a couple of hours a week to socialize and make new friends – all of whom have a similar set of memory challenges. Get up, get out, refresh your energy levels.
Remember, keep your chin up. It keeps the hair out of your eyes.