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How can you react to difficult situations caused by Alzheimer’s?

Hallucinations, delirium, anxiety…do you know how to react to these changes in behavior that are common in a person living with Alzheimer’s?

The goal of this article is to help you gain awareness of six of the most common behavioral issues associated with Alzheimer’s - the ones you are most likely to come into contact with as the disease progresses. We’ll also show you the best way to react when confronted with these situations.

Situation 1: When they get agitated or worked up

This type of behavior generally comes from feelings of anger or frustration rather than confusion or a desire to communicate a need.

What to do?

Remain calm at all times. Try to maintain eye contact as you approach them slowly and steadily. This will help reassure them as you give off calming vibes - “don’t worry, everything’s ok: I’m here for you”.

- Do all you can to avoid confrontation. Don’t scold them or tell them to just behave themselves. Don’t try to force them to stop what they’re doing by saying things like “that’s enough of that”.

- Try to understand why they are acting like they are. Is their behavior caused by environmental changes – has someone shown up unexpectedly or were they startled by noise from the television or radio, for example? Are they in pain or tired? Are they supposed to take medication soon? If you can find out what it was that triggered the behavior, it’ll be easier to prevent it from happening again.

Situation 2: When they experience delusions or hallucinations

The most common form of hallucinations involves seeing things that aren’t really there. They can also involve hearing things others can’t hear, or feeling things that have no real stimulus. Delusions involve persisting in a belief despite evidence to the contrary (being convinced someone is stealing from them or that their husband is having an affair, for example).

What to do?

If your loved one is experiencing hallucinations or delusions, the best thing to do is to take them to a specialist so that they can examine the situation and decide on an appropriate course of treatment. It is important you do this, as the hallucinations could be caused by another illness or by an unrelated physical problem (hearing or sight problems for example). Alternatively, they could be a side effect of a medication they’re on.

- Try not to do anything that could reinforce these delusions or perceptions. Try instead to provide a reasonable explanation for what’s going on.

- If they remain unconvinced, try distracting their attention with an activity they enjoy.

Situation 3: When they get anxious or depressed

Having Alzheimer’s doesn’t make you immune to other mental illnesses. People with Alzheimer’s can also get sad and depressed. Their depression could have a physical cause (when the parts of the brain responsible for affective states are affected by the illness) or a psychological cause (living in unfavorable circumstances or being aware of how the illness is affecting them for example).

What to do?

- Consult with your doctor. They will be able to assess the situation and decide whether referring them to a specialist (a psychologist or psychiatrist) would be a good idea.

- Show your loved one the respect they deserve. Don’t downplay what they’re going through wih patronizing statements like “come on, no-one ever died from feeling depressed”. Don’t try and pressure them to get better. Avoid saying things like - “you’re not still moping, are you?”, “you can’t be sad forever” or “come on, snap out of it”. This often has the opposite effect - causing them to sink further into their depression.

- Look for ways to show your support by being as warm and caring as possible and praising them whenever they do something well.

Situation 4: When they start to wander

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for people with Alzheimer’s to wander. You may find them aimlessly wandering around the house, turning things over as if they were looking for something. Some constantly try to leave the house (for no valid reason) while others take to following their caregivers around wherever they go.

What to do?

- Inside the house, make sure there’s nothing lying around that could cause tripping. Secure doors and windows by installing locks.

-Alert some of your closest neighbors to the situation so that they can keep an eye out just in case your loved one does manage to get outside without your knowledge.

- Make sure they wear an identification material (an ID bracelet, for example). Look into using a tracking device as this will help you keep an eye on where they are at all times.

Situation 5: When they’re constantly losing things

Forgetting where they put something is extremely common behavior among those with Alzheimer’s. Some even go as far as accusing family members or friends of theft.

What to do?

- Don’t over-react. Reassure them by saying something like, “don’t worry, these things happen”. This will help them to keep calm rather than getting overly worked up, anxious or frustrated.

- Try to keep an orderly home, with everything in its place.

- You may find labelling places where things should go helpful as it will encourage them to put things where they can be easily found.

Alzheimer's, Treatment, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Medication, Social Life, Psychological aspects

Author: Marta Mero, Psychologist

Last Modification: February 6, 2017

© People Who Global, iStock.com

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