How to cope
Alzheimer’s Disease alters the brain because cells die off – which causes impairment – usually starting with forgetfulness. Over time this will only get worse. Progressively you will see behavioural changes. Here is a loved one – father, mother, uncle or aunt who may have been a loving person their whole life – who now becomes argumentative or even aggressive.
WHAT TO DO?
Coping with these changes can be very difficult. Always remember that the changed behaviour is not deliberate. The changes in the brain cause this changed behaviour and often the person does not even recognize the change him/herself.
The anger is usually expressed towards a loved one or a carer as they are the closest to the person. Often the patient does realize that their attitude is not the same and that can make them even more aggressive. They may even be frightened by that – and most importantly need reassurance.
HOW TO COPE (IN THE EARLY STAGES)
- Always stay calm. I learned very quickly that reassuring people and not arguing any of their comments – but talking along with them seems to work best.
- Keep their environment and routines as familiar as possible. People with dementia can easily become upset when they are in an unfamiliar environment.
- Never raise your voice or argue when a person is upset. Speak slowly – that is also reassuring.
- If a behaviour becomes really difficult, do not attempt to restrain the patient or use another form of physical contact. Rather get some help.
- Do not take it personally – the patient cannot control these emotions – it is not directed at you.
- Do not become provoked by the behaviour or be drawn into an argument with the patient.
- Do not punish the patient for their behaviour. They will have soon forgotten all about it – remember their short term memory is the first to be affected.
AGGRESSION (WHEN IT GETS WORSE)
- When the patient becomes physical (such as hitting out) or verbally abusive, this should be seen as the person expressing fear, anger or frustration.
- When a person starts to wander, you may need to lock the doors, but this in turn may cause more frustration and is expressed in aggressive behaviour.
- Increased activity and exercise may help control these outbursts.
- Approach the person slowly and always explain what you are going to do. This may avoid the feeling of being attacked and becoming aggressive (as a self defense mechanism).
- Perhaps the aggression is about not getting what he/she wants. So always try to anticipate the needs of the person.