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How to Help Calm Agitation in a Person with Dementia?

Providing care for an aging parent or another loved one who is suffering from dementia can be frustrating, but it can also be incredibly validating. The key is for caregivers to educate themselves about the disease and find ways of tackling common problems before they come up. Unfortunately, agitation is often one of those problems, even in people who have been kind and calm for their entire lives.

Causes of Agitation

Most of the time, dementia sufferers are acting out for a reason, even if they can’t always clearly express what it is. Caregivers need to identify and resolve the causes of the aggressive behavior if they want it to stop.

Some issues are easier to identify than others. Soiled underwear and constipation issues are good examples. However, more often than not, the problem will be less concrete. Many dementia sufferers become agitated for less obvious reasons, such as:

  • A sudden change in routine or place.
  • Depression and stress.
  • Feelings of ambiguous loss.
  • Too much noise or too many people.
  • Being pushed to do something they can’t.
  • Not having enough contact with others.
  • Interactions between medications

Providing quality dementia care often requires an abundance of patience, and this is no exception. Caregivers can’t ignore or minimize these problems. The only way to resolve them is to get to the root of the issue. In some cases, a visit to the doctor may be required.

What to Do When There’s No Clear Explanation

Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to identify the root cause of a senior’s agitation or aggression when they suffer from dementia. Caregivers can still provide love and support, though, and sometimes that makes all the difference. Here are a few steps to take:

Step One: Stay Calm

It’s natural for caregivers to get upset when their loved ones are agitated. The phenomenon is known within the psychology community as mirroring, and it goes both ways. By grounding themselves and demonstrating calmness, caregivers may be able to help their loved ones feel safe and reassured.

Step Two: Slow Down

Once a caregiver has calmed down, they should stop to listen. Even if the person doesn’t make any sense, don’t correct the person. Give them time to figure out what they want to say.

Step Three: Focus on Feelings

Seniors suffering from dementia may not always know exactly how to express themselves, but they still have strong feelings. Try to respond to those instead of the words being used. Reasoning with people who have dementia will only cause more frustration.

Step Four: Offer Validation

No matter what words the person uses to express their frustration or other feelings driving agitation, it’s important to respond with respect and offer validation. It’s better to ask questions about the person’s experience than it is to challenge or correct misconceptions.

Step Five: Refocus

When the root cause of a senior’s agitation is not something that can be changed, refocusing or redirecting their attention is the best solution. Try redirecting the conversation to something that isn’t upsetting, or engaging the person in a more relaxing activity. Just be sure to listen to the problem and respond to it with validation first.

Tips for Preventing Agitation

There aren’t always clear, rational causes underlying the agitation of someone suffering from dementia, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing caregivers can do to limit issues with anxiety and aggression. The best way to reduce issues is to create a calm environment for the person that reduces environmental triggers and ensures personal comfort. If it’s not possible to do that at home, it may be worth looking into appropriate senior living communities.

For those who are still able to perform some of their own activities of daily living, providing gentle support and direction can help. Simplify tasks by giving just one direction at a time, try modeling behaviors, and offer choices between two possible tasks or options rather than many. Continuing to perform at least some ADLs can help seniors with dementia feel more independent, normal, and calm, even if they need a lot of help. Try to remain patient and take things one day at a time.

Is It Time to Make a Move?

It doesn’t matter whether someone is seeking assisted living in Tacoma, WA, for a family member who’s currently living alone or needs professional memory care services that go above and beyond what’s available at other local retirement communities. Pioneer Place is here to help. Our staff is fully vaccinated and 100% committed to treating residents with compassion and respect. Call (253) 539-3410 to schedule a tour.

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