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Dementia & being mean to family: how to cope

Fonthill House, St Albans, Hertfordshire

Coping with a family member with dementia who shows aggression for no apparent reason can be emotionally challenging. However, dementia can significantly alter a person’s behaviour and personality, leading to unexpected outbursts. 

At Fonthill, we implement effective strategies to navigate these moments with patience and empathy, emphasising effective communication, redirection and self-care. This maintains a harmonious relationship while providing the best possible specialist 1-2-1 care and support during this difficult journey. Take a look below at our coping strategies.

Understanding why people with dementia can say mean things

People with dementia may say mean things due to the progressive cognitive decline affecting their brain. The condition impairs their ability to process information, control impulses and understand social norms. 

Your loved one might feel overwhelmed, confused or frustrated, leading to expressions of anger or rudeness. However, it’s essential to remember that their behaviour is a result of the disease and not a reflection of their character. 

Knowing this, empathy and patience are crucial in understanding their perspective and providing compassionate care. Redirecting the conversation, offering reassurance, and focusing on positive interactions can help diffuse tense moments. 

Try educating family and friends about dementia’s effects too, so that you help to foster a supportive environment that enhances the person’s well-being and preserves the bond between them and their loved ones.

How does dementia change our thinking skills?

Dementia gradually alters an individual’s thinking skills by affecting various cognitive functions. Memory loss is the hallmark symptom of dementia, leading to forgetfulness and difficulty recalling recent events or information. Individuals will also face problem-solving difficulties, making it exceptionally challenging to plan, organise and action tasks. Similarly, one’s concentration deteriorates, which further adds to confusion or disorientation. Finally, in severe cases, dementia patients may lose their language skills, causing great trouble finding the words to express themselves and follow conversation threads. 

These changes progressively impact a person’s ability to function independently and can lead to severe frustration, which consequently turns into aggression.

Four ways to reduce and manage aggressive behaviour in dementia patients

In this guide, we outline four effective strategies to minimise and handle aggressive behaviour in individuals with dementia. By employing these approaches, caregivers and loved ones can create a more peaceful and supportive environment, enhancing the well-being of both the patients and those around them.

Calm down the situation

To calm down aggressive behaviour in dementia patients, you must ensure a calm and peaceful environment. Always speak softly to your loved one and maintain a composed demeanour, as agitation can escalate the situation. In fact, it’s essential to avoid further confrontation and instead try to redirect their focus to soothing activities or familiar objects.

You should also try to limit their distractions to minimise the levels of stress and agitation, making sure their surroundings are neutral and calm. To do this, encourage relaxation techniques like deep breathing or playing gentle music. Remember that empathy and patience are essential in handling these moments!

By creating a tranquil atmosphere and responding with compassion, caregivers can help alleviate aggressive behaviour and promote a sense of security for the patients.

Avoid any possible triggers

Preventing aggressive behaviours in dementia patients involves identifying and avoiding potential triggers. To understand what is causing the patient distress, observe patterns that lead to agitation, such as certain activities, environments or times of the day. Common triggers include loud noises, overcrowded spaces, unfamiliar people or changes in routine. 

Once you know what is bothering them, modify their routine, removing their triggers and adding more comforting activities. You should also ensure their comfort by addressing physical needs like hunger, pain or discomfort. 

By proactively eliminating potential stressors, caregivers can create a more harmonious environment that reduces the likelihood of aggressive episodes and enhances the overall well-being of the patient.

Find the cause

To avoid any aggression in the first place, try to understand the cause of these behaviours in the past. Start by identifying key triggers such as pain, discomfort or unmet needs like hunger. A stressor could also come from their living environment, such as loud noises and busy spaces. Or, if your loved one can communicate well, ask them gently to explain what is causing them distress or concern. 

By pinpointing the root cause, caregivers can address issues directly, offering appropriate solutions or comfort.

Once you know what is bothering them, modify their routine, removing their triggers and adding more comforting activities. You should also ensure their comfort by addressing physical needs like hunger, pain or discomfort. 

By proactively eliminating potential stressors, caregivers can create a more harmonious environment that reduces the likelihood of aggressive episodes and enhances the overall well-being of the patient.

Change caregivers

Rotating caregivers can provide a fresh perspective and potentially reduce aggressive behaviours in dementia patients. In fact, new faces might bring a sense of novelty, decreasing frustration and agitation. Changing caregivers at your long-term care home is also a responsible idea if there have been previous issues with the current one. 

However, if you are seeking to change caregivers, always have consistent communication with one another to ensure a seamless transition and understanding of the patient’s needs and preferences. 

By periodically changing caregivers, the patient’s experience can become less predictable, potentially easing tension and promoting a more positive interaction, leading to a calmer and safer environment.

Coping with a family member with dementia who displays mean behaviour can be emotionally challenging. Remembering that their actions are a result of their condition and employing empathy, patience and effective communication is essential. Seeking support from professionals like Fonthill can provide valuable insights and strategies for managing these difficult situations with compassion and understanding.

By pinpointing the root cause, caregivers can address issues directly, offering appropriate solutions or comfort.

Once you know what is bothering them, modify their routine, removing their triggers and adding more comforting activities. You should also ensure their comfort by addressing physical needs like hunger, pain or discomfort. 

By proactively eliminating potential stressors, caregivers can create a more harmonious environment that reduces the likelihood of aggressive episodes and enhances the overall well-being of the patient.

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