Tips to handle dementia behaviour changes

Tags: blog, Health & Social Care, Nursing...

Whether you’re a Nurse, Healthcare Assistant, Carer or  Support Worker employed at a care home, you’ll probably agree that managing behaviour changes in residents with dementia is perhaps one of the biggest challenges you face on a daily basis.

Dementia can have a very big impact on the person affected, and residents may fear not only their loss of memory and thinking skills, but also the loss of who they are as a person. In addition, when a person with dementia doesn’t understand what is going on around them or why, they may feel they are not in control of what’s happening, and this can also affect their behaviour.

In this blog, we highlight common behaviour changes in dementia, and share our top tips to manage them in a compassionate and effective manner.

Common behaviour changes in dementia patients

In the middle to later stages of most types of dementia, a person may start to behave differently. This can be distressing for both the person with dementia and those who care for them.

Some common changes in behaviour include:

  • Repeating the same question or activity over and over again
  • Restlessness – pacing up and down, wandering, fidgeting
  • Night-time waking and sleep disturbance
  • Following a partner or spouse around everywhere
  • Loss of self-confidence – this may show as apathy or disinterest in their usual activities

If you're caring for someone who's showing these behaviours, it's important to try to understand why they're behaving like this, which isn't always easy.

Identify the triggers of behavioural changes in dementia 

There are a number of reasons why a patient with dementia may become agitated, and the most common of these are:

  • Uncomfortable environmental conditions
  • Challenging interpersonal or social relationships
  • Excessive demands placed upon the person
  • The absence of visual cues to help the person remain oriented
  • A lack of routine
  • The need for social contact or stimulation
  • Too few activities during the day
  • The side effects of medication or a response to the distress caused by hallucinations and delusions

You should also get your doctor to rule out any of the following causes:
  • uncontrolled pain
  • untreated depression
  • infection, such as a urinary tract infection
  • side effects of medicines

Once the trigger has been identified, it’s important to take action towards solving the issue. In doing so, you should also aim to adapt your own behaviour to increase the chance of achieving the desired results.

Top tips to manage behaviour changes in dementia patients

To help you manage challenging behaviours, Search Healthcare has provided seven useful tips to manage behavioural changes in dementia patients:

1. Change your point of view

See the person first, not their illness. Don’t take it personally when they repeat things, aggressively resist your attempted care or become verbally abusive. Instead, aim to use a gentle voice and where appropriate, a reassuring touch.

2. Get to know the person you are caring for

Knowing more about the person will make it easier to engage them in positive conversations and calm them down when they begin to fall into trouble.

3. Empathise with your patient's experiences

Live in their moment and validate their feelings and thoughts. Do not patronise or rush their speech, and try to use non-verbal cues if their speech is difficult to understand.

4. Accomodate without being controlling

Redirect or curtail challenging behaviours by using calm reassurance or distractions. Don't try to control the situation or be too forceful with your approach, as this will only make the situation worse. 

5. Create a dementia-friendly environment 

Family photos and soothing background music in communal places and bedrooms promote recollections and positive responses. Pictures and signs aid recognition of important rooms, such as toilets for example.

6. Support strengths and abilities 

Always encourage independent abilities, engagement in preferred activities and regular exercise.

7. Improve your communication

Always try to create clear eye contact and hold the attention of the person when speaking to them. Speak calmly, clearly and use simple sentences. Don’t repeat the same words if the person is struggling to understand them. Avoid asking direct questions and phrase them to encourage ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers when necessary.

When a person becomes aggitated of aggressive, it's important to avoid being confrontational. Leave the room and take five to calm down if you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed with the situation. 

*Article sources: NHS

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