How to Care for Someone with Dementia: Managing Challenging Symptoms
03 February 2021
Caring for someone with dementia changes every day. As a cognitive condition, dementia affects individuals uniquely. Someone with vascular dementia will respond differently to a person with frontotemporal dementia. The best advice is - trust your judgment. Your knowledge of the person will help you respond confidently and give the best care.
This article explores how caring for someone with dementia may require learning new skills in communication. All behaviour is communication - but it can be challenging when it is negative, or uncharacteristically aggressive. Knowing which strategies help, will enable you to cope well and create a positive environment.
We took advice from Curam carers who are experienced in managing the more difficult symptoms associated with dementia. By exploring different methods, we can feel empowered to adapt our approach. Above all, it’s about knowing how to deliver great care for someone we love with dementia.
How to Manage Challenging Symptoms of Dementia
Thankfully, most people with dementia won’t exhibit aggressive behaviours. But, on occasion, when a person feels frustrated, confused or overwhelmed they can act out. Caring for someone with dementia in these moments can be distressing. There are several strategies we can use to cope well and restore a peaceful and calm atmosphere.
• Reassure them, acknowledge their feelings, empathise and remind them they’re in the company of someone who cares for them
• Be kind to yourself. Accept some days will be harder than others. Celebrate good days and don’t dwell on negative moments. Guilt, anger and sadness are a natural reaction, so accept them and let them pass. You’re doing a great job
• Take a deep breath and create physical space, allowing the person with dementia time to settle and feel calmer
• Mirroring a person’s body language can reduce feelings of conflict, as does maintaining eye contact when listening
• If you feel scared or in danger, leave and call for help
How To Read The Signs Of Distress
Like anyone, someone with dementia can have bad days. Only around a third of people with dementia display aggressive behaviour. This is because they might find it hard to recognise and understand their needs. This can include dealing with pain, agitation, social anxiety, emotional upset or hunger. You may be able to prevent aggressive behaviour by spotting body language which indicates when someone with dementia needs help:
• Repeatedly rub an area of their body
• Look scared or clench their teeth
• Are huddled, restless or have similar body language
• Show a change in appetite
• Have a high temperature, swellings or inflammations
Certain times of the day can be difficult for a person living with dementia. If you notice behaviours change as a task is being completed, consider if the job can be moved to another time or place.
How To Manage Sundowning - A Common Symptom Of Dementia
Sundowning describes the changes in mood and behaviour that people with dementia may experience in the evening. Around dusk, some people can feel anxious, unsettled and scared about where they are. Sticking to a daily, familiar routine can successfully prevent sundowning, especially if it’s a routine the person particularly enjoys. Other ideas to consider are:
• Maintain a familiar, daily routine
• Use lamps, curtains and blinds to transition light gradually from day to night
• Discourage naps during the day, to promote deeper sleep at night
• Avoid caffeine or alcohol by switching to de-caff or 0% alternatives
• Breakfast like a king and supper like a pauper - switch heavier meals to earlier in the day to improve sleep
• Remove mirrors from living areas, as reflections can cause confusion
• Turn off blue light such as tablets, phones and TV in the evenings and use audiobooks, radio or music to create a calm environment
If you notice behaviours which express anxiety of confusion you can try the following tips:
• Distract the person by going into a different room, making a drink, having a bite to eat, turning on some music or going for a walk
• Ask them what is wrong, listen to how they feel and see if there's anything you can do to stop their discomfort
• Talk slowly and softly
• Hold the person’s hand, or sit close to them, stroking their arm
Support For People With Dementia And Their Families
Caring for others can take a toll on your own health. Be aware of this and if you need further help managing the symptoms of dementia, you should see a GP or healthcare professional. They will be able to discuss you or your loved-one's individual situation and suggest further ways to cope.
Speaking freely to others who can empathise with your situation, can bring a deep feeling of comfort. There are many wonderful organisations across the UK who can support you as you care for a loved one with dementia.
National Charities have resources, tips and advice which can help you understand dementia symptoms, what funding help is available and where you can access support groups locally.
• Dementia UK Helpline - 0800 888 6678
• National Dementia Helpline - 0300 222 11 22
How To Use Dementia Carers
Above all, great care is ensuring someone we love, who has dementia, is able to live in a caring and safe home. That can come from a spouse, family member or through the services of an experienced carer. Through Curam you can find carers who have undertaken specialist training, equipping them to manage different conditions such as Alzheimer’s, frontotemporal, vascular or lewy body dementia.
How can a dementia carer help?
• Can provide hourly, live in, overnight or respite care
• Allow your loved one to stay supported and safe at home in a familiar environment
• An affordable alternative to nursing or care homes
• One-to-one attention create opportunities for socialising and talk
• Overnight care allows spouses or family members to rest well
• Can offer insight and objective advice on managing difficult symptoms of dementia