Dr. MJ Bazos MD,
Caring for Your Loved One
Are behavior problems common in people
who have dementia? Yes. Many
people who have dementia--the name for an illness like Alzheimer's disease--have
behavior problems such as inappropriate shouting and agitation (being upset,
frustrated and confused). Wandering away, resisting care and having disturbed
sleep are other common problems. People with dementia may have strange thoughts,
or they may imagine they hear or see things that don't really exist
(hallucinations).Why do people with
dementia become agitated? The
agitation can have many causes. A sudden change in surroundings can cause people
who have dementia to become agitated. Frustrating situations can also cause
agitation. For example, a person who has dementia may become agitated if he or
she can't get dressed without help or gives the wrong answer to a question.
Being challenged about his or her confusion or inability to do things may also
make the person agitated. As a result, the person may cry, become irritable, or
try to hit, kick or hurt you in some way.
If the agitation has no obvious cause
or the person becomes agitated very suddenly, he or she should be seen by a
doctor. The sudden occurrence of agitation may be caused by a medicine he or she
is taking, or by an infection, illness or injury.
How can I deal with agitation in my
loved one who has dementia? Even
if agitation is an ongoing problem for your loved one, there are ways you can
deal with it. One of the most important things you can do is avoid situations in
which your loved one might become frustrated because he or she fails to remember
something or forgets to do something. Try to make your loved one's tasks less
difficult. For example, instead of expecting him or her to get dressed alone,
you can just have your loved one put on one thing, such as a jacket, on his or
her own. You can also try to limit the
number of difficult situations your loved one must face. For example, if taking
a bath or shower causes problems, have him or her take one every other day
instead of every day. Also, you can schedule difficult activities for a time of
day when your loved one tends to be less agitated. It's helpful to give frequent
reassurance and avoid contradicting him or her.
What should I do if hallucinations
are a problem? If the
hallucinations are not making your loved one scared or anxious, you don't need
to do anything. It's better not to confront people about their hallucinations,
because you will not be able to convince them that there are no voices or
people. Arguing may just upset your loved one.
If the hallucinations are scary to
your loved one, you can try to distract the person by involving him or her in a
pleasant activity. If distracting the person doesn't work and the hallucinations
continue, let the doctor know. He or she may prescribe some medicine to help.
This medicine will not get rid of the hallucinations, but your loved one will be
less upset by them. What if my
loved one will not go to sleep at night?
First, try to make the person more
aware of what time of day it is. Place clocks where he or she can see them. You
can also keep curtains or blinds open so that he or she can tell when it is
daytime and when it is nighttime.
Substances that contain caffeine may
keep your loved one awake, so limit the amount of chocolate, soda containing
caffeine, coffee and tea he or she consumes. Try to help your loved one get some
exercise every day. Don't let him or her take too many naps during the day. Be
certain that the bedroom is peaceful, since it is easier to sleep in a quiet
room. If your loved one has arthritis or another painful condition that
interrupts his or her sleep, ask your doctor if it is okay to give your loved
one a medicine for pain right before bed.
What if wandering becomes a
problem? Medicine usually will not
help prevent your loved one from wandering. Sometimes, however, very simple
things can help with this problem. It is all right for your loved one to wander
in a safe place, such as in a fenced yard. By providing such a safe place, you
may avoid a confrontation. If this doesn't work, remind your loved one not to go
out a certain door by placing a stop sign on it or putting a piece of furniture
in front of it. A ribbon tied across a door can serve as a similar reminder.
Hiding the doorknob by placing a strip of cloth over it may also be helpful.
An alarm system will alert you that
your loved one is trying to leave a certain area. Your alarm system may just be
a few empty cans tied to a string on the doorknob. You might have to place
special locks on the doors, but be aware that such locks might be dangerous if a
house fire occurs. Also, some people with dementia can open certain types of
locks. Where can I get more
information? The Alzheimer's
Hopkins University Press: http://www.press.jhu.edu