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How do we deal with dementia behaviors in a safe way?

Answered by David Troxel

June 3, 2015

I am caring for an 88 year old aunt who nearly died last July of sepsis because she didn't understand what her doctors were telling her and allowed herself to become very ill. She beat the odds and has recovered from surgery with a colostomy and much memory restored after months of recovery.

We moved to this city to be near her in her Assisted Living place, and now she has decided that she is going home - to live alone on top of a mountain. She was born with one hand, and insists she can care for her ostomy bag alone, which AL says she is not doing.

She wants me to hand her the car keys, but my family and I feel that this would be a dangerous act. She is getting very angry because she doesn't understand that we had to consolidate her bills and accounts over the past nine months just to manage her affairs. She is my mom's only sibling, and never married.

Do you have any advice on how we can deal with her dementia in a safe way, without causing WWIII? Thanks!

Even the best caregivers can become the bad guys now and then. It sounds like she is in a safe place and that it isn’t an option for her to go home.

Here are a few ideas:

Show empathy and understanding. It’s only human to want to go home. Ask her for more tales about her childhood and life on the mountain. Reminiscing can lift her mood.

Blame the doctor. Sometimes families will say to their relative that it’s simply doctor’s orders that they receive a higher level of care. Your aunt may respect medical authority.

Be authentic. Let her know that it’s never easy getting older but that this new community will provide her with great food and company.

Offer hope. Sometimes it can placate her if you say that you are hearing her loud and clear, and that the family can schedule a meeting later in the year to review options.

Meanwhile, readers of this blog will know that one of my favorite lines to use is that she needs to stay in this setting, “to build up your strength.” This can focus her on therapy and exercise and help her feel that there is a goal to her being present.

Keep her busy - boredom is the enemy. Brainstorm with the staff about her engagement to see if you can find a sense of purpose or special chore or job for her at the building.

I hope that you can get over this rough period and that she will settle in more in the coming months.

Thoughts and stories from others

  1. August 1, 2015 at 07:48 pm
    Posted by sharon

    My husband was diagnosed with dementia years ago after 1 test..I argued the point..after many visits with other doctors he was diagnosed with NPH..excess water on the brain..after having a shunt placed in the head he did much better as far as the memory goes..walking is still not so great..shuffles...our family dr says its the NPH and depression...last year he was diagnosed again with dementia...hes up only to eat and shower...his memory is good..anyone else having the same issues?
  2. June 27, 2015 at 11:52 am
    Posted by Angeka

    My husband is in Cottage in the Meadows for respite because I was sent to the ER for possible heart attack. It was diagnosed as epigastric pain and anxiety. I have been advised to continue respite at a memory center when his time is up at the Cottage and that I need to arrange permanent placement because of concerns for my health. I am so distressed because they have him so terribly medicated he can barely move his feet and he can hardly stay awake. Their reason being that he is more comfortable and safer. I want to just bring him home where he had none of those behaviors.
  3. June 26, 2015 at 11:34 pm
    Posted by Mary E. Flores

    My husband is showing signs and symptoms of memory loss. I am going to have to be his caretaker. I need to learn what this will entail, please.
  4. June 4, 2015 at 04:57 pm
    Posted by Rachel Kuipers

    My Mom & Dad moved to an Assisted Living facility 9 years ago. During this time, Mom developed Alzheimer's while Dad had heart problems and died two years ago. Since the death of Dad, Mom has broken a hip and developed many UTI (which has caused her to wander the halls searching for Dad). The decision has been made to move her to a private nursing home where the level of care is much higher and the staff are trained in the areas of memory care. However Mom refuses to go - what can we do to make the move easier for her? Rachel

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