As if caring for your elderly loved one weren’t difficult enough, you may also be finding that this person whom you love and care for now has a personality that you’ve never known. Dementia and Alzheimer’s patients may display anger, hostility, restlessness, stubbornness, and many other qualities that perhaps they even scolded you for displaying when you were a child. Such personality changes can be very distressing to your emotional and even physical health. So, let’s look at a few ways to cope with this.
Why It Happens
Understanding the mechanics of dementia can help to alleviate some of the stress. Just knowing that such attitudes are not your loved one’s fault can help put things in perspective. Put simply, these aggressive tendencies are a direct result of brain damage. If the brain has been damaged in the area that processes emotions, then significant personality changes often result. Your loved one may react to situations in socially unacceptable ways, or may not react at all. Both are a result of damage to the brain.
Environmental factors can exacerbate the situation. Being in an unfamiliar place can create panic and a sense of loss of control.
Imagine waking up in the morning and not knowing where you are or even who you are. This disorientation can cause a lot of anxiety and frustration, which can further feed negative emotions. Such is the life of many dementia and Alzheimer’s patients. Unfortunately, these emotions are often directed toward the caregiver. You may be accused of stealing, you may watch your loved one lash out in anger over very small things such as taking medication, or you may even witness a violent outburst.
How to Cope
Sadly, there is no magic cure, but there are tools to help you cope and even properly manage the situation when it arises.
- Don’t take it personally. That is easier said than done, of course. However, remember that this is not who your loved one really is, and the negative emotions he or she displays are not based in reality. Try to put yourself in the dementia sufferer’s shoes and imagine what it would feel like to be that person.
- Seek support. The Alzheimer’s Association may have a local chapter that you can seek out. Often, hearing others’ stories can offer validation that what you are experiencing is not unique, even though it is distressing. Simply searching on the web for others’ stories or for books written on the topic can provide encouragement that you are not alone.
While you cannot cure the damage that causes emotional instabilities in your loved one, there are techniques available for handling these episodes.
- Don’t try to reason out the behavior. Dementia patients cannot comprehend the way they are acting or the consequences. Trying to reason it out will most likely result in further confrontation.
- Don’t touch. Reassurance by a gentle physical touch may seem like a good idea, but in this case it can often provoke further confrontation.
- Take a time out. It may be helpful to remove yourself from the situation until the anger has subsided.
- Don’t be negative. Instead of saying “you have to do this,” or “you must go here,” try saying “wouldn’t you like to do this?” or “wouldn’t you like to go here?” Anger and hostility that result from a feeling of loss of control can be averted by allowing as much control as is possible. Forcing your loved one to do something, even a very simple task, can make him or her feel backed into a corner and frightened.
Remember the four R’s to prevent an outburst:
- Repeat. Your loved one may ask the same question over and over again. Repeat the answer calmly.
- Redirect. Try to redirect attention to something else. Would your loved one like to go for a drive or look at photos?
- Reinforce. Try to reinforce positive emotion through a soothing comment.
- Reassure. A sense of control can often calm an unstable situation. If possible, reassure your love one that he or she does not have to do this or that activity. If it’s not possible to provide such a choice, calmly reassure the patient that the activity will be over shortly.
If you are dealing with a loved one whose personality has become aggressive, be assured that you are not alone. Take time for yourself as much as possible and surround yourself with those who will reassure you of your value and give you a boost to deal with the pressure.