Among all the changes associated with Alzheimer’s disease, behavioral changes can be among the most difficult to cope with. Whereas living arrangements and activities of daily living can be adjusted in concrete, easy-to-define ways, managing challenging behaviors requires a high degree of patience and flexibility. When someone you love experiences major personality changes, it can be very hard to know how to help them, especially when you are dealing with your own feelings of confusion, frustration, and powerlessness. However, it’s essential to remember that there are things you can do to mitigate your loved ones’ behavioral problems, improve their quality of life, and increase your own peace of mind.
Most people are prepared to deal with the forgetfulness and memory loss that accompany Alzheimer’s. However, other behavioral symptoms can be more unexpected, and more distressing. Repetitive behaviors, physical and verbal aggression, incoherent vocalization, and wandering are some common behaviors that diminish quality of life and lead to frustration on the part of caregivers. When these behaviors are improperly managed – by ignoring them, or by responding with anger or resentment – they often become worse, leading to caregiver burnout. In these instances, patients are often placed in full-time residential care before they would otherwise need to be. Understanding the source of these behaviors and learning how to manage them appropriately can make all the difference.
Above all, it’s important to remember that behaviors are a way of communicating in the absence of the cognitive functions that enable clear verbal communication. Someone who used to be calm and easygoing may become verbally abusive or physically aggressive. Instead of taking it personally, look for the source of the behavior: is your loved one bored, over-stimulated, uncomfortable, hungry, thirsty, or in pain? Are they tired or depressed? All of these factors can contribute to behavioral issues. Take note of when your loved one acts out: often, it can be correlated with specific events or environmental stressors. For example, if they often become agitated at the end of the day, their behavior could be caused by fatigue. Mirrors, shadowy lighting, or a cluttered environment can cause confusion and distress. Strangers in the home or crowded social events are also common source of stress.
For a caregiver, the best way to approach behavioral issues is to remember not to take them personally. They are a natural part of the progression Alzheimer’s disease, and, as such, cannot be eliminated. They can, however, be managed: when you remain calm, flexible, and empathetic, it will help your loved one and you as a caregiver. Retaining a sense of humor and cultivating patience can go a long way toward reducing your own feelings of stress and frustration. Instead of trying to “fix” your loved one, or arrest the process of cognitive deterioration, focus on providing them with a comfortable, soothing environment, as well as compassion, appropriate social interaction, and lots of love.
To receive advice and help about increased aggression and other behavioral difficulties, feel free to contact us. Give us a call at 888-311-1142, or fill out a contact form and we will respond shortly.