The memory loss and confusion that accompanies dementia can cause the elderly to think and behave in ways that are normally not within their character. Some examples would be falsely accusing someone of stealing or shouting out inappropriate comments. They also exhibit difficulty in expressing their needs, such as hunger, thirst or fatigue.
It’s difficult when the elderly person with dementia is someone you have known for a long time, perhaps all of your life. You know what their character and personality are like, because you have known them for so long. You can look at their face and think they are the same person they have always been.
But the sad truth about dementia is that it changes thinking patterns and it affects the brain in both subtle and obvious ways. People with dementia can be so convinced that what they are saying is true, even when it’s not, that they could pass a lie detector test.
The vocabulary and functions of higher speech may be affected first. These are controlled by the left side of the brain. Dementia can cause forceful damage to this side of the brain. The right side is not affected as much; it’s where social interactions are controlled, as well as where curse words are usually stored.
Knowing about the sides of the brain and what is affected the most helps to make dementia-related behaviors make sense. So when an elderly man shouts out expletives to someone in a seemingly random way, he is trying to communicate but only the right-brain vocabulary is available, which is very limited.
Another scenario that could play out is that an elderly person with dementia who is being taken care of by an elder care provider may accuse that person of stealing something. For example, it may be a purse or a wallet. The elderly person has put their purse away in a safe place and forgotten where it is. Then later that day they’ve seen their caregiver carrying the caregiver’s own purse. The dementia causes the elderly person to think that the caregiver stole their purse. And they will be so convinced of it that to them, it’s the truth.
So how do you cut through the fog of dementia to communicate with the elderly person? Here are three strategies that have shown some success:
- When they make an accusation, validate their feelings (but not the actual accusation), and then offer to help them look for the item. Example: “I’m sorry your purse went missing. You must feel frustrated. Maybe I can help you look for it?”
- When they should out expletives, just stay calm and re-direct them to something else. Example: “Let’s go into the kitchen and see if we can find a yummy snack for you.”
- When they are asking for something but you don’t know what it is because they just say they need something, then see if you can get them to show you how it’s used. Example: “Alright, can you tell me more about it?” or “Would you be able to show me how you use it?” They may be able to use their hands to show they are eating or drinking something. Then you will know they are hungry or thirsty.
Dementia takes away their vocabulary, so they can’t find the right word. But they can usually show you in actions what they need.
If you or someone you know needs help with elderly care in Lowell, MI contact the caregivers at Gauthier Family Home Care. We provide quality and affordable home care for many disabled and elderly loved ones in our community. Call us at (616) 658-2300 for more information.
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