Blog Home > Blog > The Frustration of Dementia: Understanding and Caring for a Loved One with Dementia

Caring for someone with dementia is not easy. Dementia and its many forms, such as Alzheimer’s, are progressive, meaning it becomes increasingly difficult for them to think clearly, communicate with others, express themselves, remember things, or take care of themselves. This deterioration is confusing for both the patient and their loved ones, which may cause some increasingly erratic behaviors. If you’re currently struggling to understand common dementia behaviors that you’re experiencing with your loved one, this article is here to support you.

Understanding Communication

One of the most frustrating parts of caring for a loved one with dementia is managing communication. Communicating with a loved one with dementia is a skill, so it will take practice to get it right. But working to improve communication will positively affect your relationship and stress level as a caregiver. Here are some tips to communicating effectively:

  • Keep it positive. Your loved one feels confused a lot of the time, and they look at your behavior and body language to understand their surroundings. This body language can be a clearer communication tool than your actual speech. Work on keeping your body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, etc. lighthearted and positive to set a positive mood.
  • Limit distractions. Added noise and distractions can take away from the concentration and focus of your loved one. Before you say something important, silence the television, make eye contact, lightly touch their arm (if that’s comfortable for them), move somewhere quieter, and address them clearly.
  • Keep it simple. Speak slowly and clearly. Use simple words, be willing to repeat yourself, try rephrasing your words if they don’t connect with them the first try, and remove memory-based nuance, (for example, instead of saying “he” or “she,” repeat the person’s name).

Understanding Confusion

As dementia progresses, memory loss and associated confusion will increase. To reduce miscommunication, it’s helpful to understand the causes underlying most dementia induced confusion. Things that may cause confusion include:

  • Sundown syndrome. A Place for Mom has a great article explaining the symptoms of sundown syndrome and how to reduce its impact. Essentially, sundown syndrome is a time toward the end of the day where their level of confusion is at its highest. It can be brought on by overstimulation toward the end of the day, difficulty seeing due to lower light levels, exhaustion, etc.
  • A big change. If they’ve recently experienced a big change or disruption to their routines, such as moving to a new place or changing their diet, confusion may soon follow.

To manage confusion, make everything as clear as possible. 

  • Keep reminders and labels easily accessible and readable and offer them familiar objects when things feel scary. 
  • Reassure them that it’s OK that they’re confused and that you’re here to help them figure it all out.
  • Keep questions to binary answers such as yes or no, this or that, etc. Open-ended questions can frustrate and prove difficult for your loved one.

Understanding Aggression

Another incredibly difficult situation you may face as a caregiver for someone with dementia is aggressive behavior. Aggression can be one of the hardest to manage on both a physical and emotional level. You may fear their behavior or your instinctual response to that behavior, you may experience anticipatory grief as you watch a loved one you know well start to feel like someone else, and more. Troublesome behaviors like aggression are best met with patients and compassion, which is easier said than done. Here are some tips for managing troubling or aggressive behavior:

  • Don’t try to control the behavior. This is a cognitive disorder that you’re dealing with, not your loved one. Logical reasoning will rarely work, or it may be met with resistance. Instead of trying to control behavior, look for ways to accommodate it. You can change your behavior easier than you can control theirs.
  • Talk to a doctor. Erratic behavior is sometimes caused by an inability to express something urgent or important. They may, for example, be in a lot of pain and not know how to share that. Taking them to the doctor can help rule out any such underlying cause.
  • Make a note of triggers. Every time an unwanted behavior arises, make a note of the activities that preceded it. You may find patterns in their behavior that help you avoid them in the future.

Closing Thoughts: Understanding Dementia Behaviors

Dementia is an incredibly frustrating disease for the care recipient, caregiver, and those you both know and love. Managing behaviors that arise because of dementia is a difficult task. Remember that you were not naturally born with the ability to care for a loved one with dementia. Instead, it’s a skill that you can learn and improve at overtime. Give yourself the same kindness and patience you extend to your loved one.

If you’re providing care for a loved one in California, the California Caregiver Resource Centers are here for you. We are a network of eleven independent 501(c)3 not-for-profit organizations across California that were created to be a free resource for caregivers in the state of California. We would love to connect the family caregiver in your life with their local Center, where they can talk more about local programs for caregivers, answer questions, and explain how they can best support the caregiver in your life

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