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What to Do When a Loved One With Dementia Is Mean or Acting Out

Watching an aging loved one struggle with dementia can be difficult on its own, but when your mom starts hurling mean comments and false accusations at you, it is natural to feel discouraged and devastated due to the change in your previously-kind mother.

No matter how much you try to remind yourself that your loved ones are not purposefully hurting you, that it’s their disease that’s making them act this way, it is difficult to ignore those hurtful words. Remember though, figuring out why mom or dad is suddenly acting differently can be crucial to navigating future instances with compassion.

1. Understand the Possible Reasons Behind the Outbursts

Confusion and fear: one of the major causes of aggression in older adults with dementia is confusion. People with dementia often find themselves disoriented, scared and struggling to make sense of reality, resulting in them lashing out. People with dementia also struggle to recognize loved ones and caregivers at times, so when you approach them without warning, their fight or flight response might kick in, making them act more confrontational.

Medications: you need to review all medications, vitamins and supplements your loved one is currently taking. Aggressiveness and disorientation can often be the result of chemical reactions caused by a medicine or a combination of medicines. Particularly, if you noticed that your mom got more aggressive after switching to a new medication, talk to their doctor about it.

2. Help Your Loved Ones Manage Their Dementia Behaviors

Remember the 4 Rs:

Reassure: though it can be difficult to do when you’re at the receiving end of hurtful comments, try to keep reassuring your loved one that you’re there for them. Use a calm, soothing voice and speak slowly, using short sentences, while checking for the root of their fear or discomfort.

Reorient:if they appear disoriented, try to ground them back in the present by bringing their attention to something familiar. You can ask them if they want to go to their room or sit on their favorite chair, for example.

Redirect: try to redirect their attention away from the cause of distress. Bring their attention to something they love or find calming in everyday life. This could be done by showing them pictures of loved ones, playing their favorite music or offering to give them a gentle massage.

Reminisce: to further calm them down, talk about a pleasant memory or a hobby that they like. Also, make sure to only ask easy-to-answer yes or no questions.

3. Keep Track of Possible Triggers

Make note of all the times your loved one starts acting out. Write what happened before, during and after an episode of aggressiveness. You can use this information to figure out patterns and potential triggers, allowing you to come up with strategies to minimize these behaviors by trying to remove the triggers as much as possible.

4. Don’t Hesitate to Ask for Help

Caregiving can take a lot out of you, so be kind to yourself. Ask friends and family to help out when necessary; you can even hire a respite caregiver and take some time for yourself. The time apart might be beneficial to both you and your loved one as spending all day, every day, with the same person can make anyone cranky.

You can also join caregiver support groups to meet and get advice from other people who are in the same situation as you. You are not alone; help is always there for those who seek it.

Having a loved one lash out at you can make you feel hopeless and even sad. Though it might be hard, try to take a step back and remind yourself that it’s not them, but their disease. Oasis Senior Advisors is here to help you. If you need help taking care of a loved one with dementia, call us at 475.619.4123 or 914.356.1901, or fill out this online form.

Oasis Senior Advisors

Fairfield-Westchester

are here to help

Paul and Susan Doyle

Certified Senior Advisor®

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475-619-4123