There are also many things we take for granted, like driving a car or making a simple meal. To someone without dementia, these things are second nature. We’ve been doing these tasks for so long we don’t hesitate or have to even think about the steps.
However, a person with dementia will not necessarily remember how to use the microwave we find so easy. They cannot remember how to get home while driving, even though they have lived in the same place for decades.
As people without dementia, we still can get frustrated by forgetting things, such as where we put our keys or glasses. We can retrace our steps, though, to figure it out. Imagine how much worse it can be when you have dementia and you cannot process those steps or remember how to do what used to be so simple.
Many times, this frustration causes outbursts and behaviors that can be difficult to handle. Redirection can be a useful tool in calming these behaviors and reducing anxieties and agitation. You have to really know the person you’re caring for, though, for it to work.
Recreating familiar surroundings can go a long way to reducing frustrating situations but there is no one right way.
As caregivers, you have to get creative, so think about hobbies and interests your loved one had as a young adult, or even a child. Did they enjoy working in an office? Did they love to garden? Were they a stay-at-home parent? Did they trade baseball cards or play baseball as a kid?
Studies are finding when a familiar environment is made it can help your loved one feel calm and more at ease. You can make these small changes in a corner of a room at home. It doesn’t have to be a huge, remodeling overhaul. If your loved one worked in an office, get a small desk and some pens and paper and let them write “business letters.”
Give them a few square yards of grass to tend. Perhaps the feel of the dirt in their hands can be relaxing. Let them carry around a baby doll or keep their baseball cards close to ward off any anxiety they may have. Even the smell of a baseball glove may help. Use all the senses you can to create a calming space that you can redirect your loved one to if they are overstimulated or become agitated.
Many studies discuss how music can be a calming force in a dementia patient’s life, especially if they are non-verbal. The YouTube video, “Alive Inside: How the Magic of Music Proves Therapeutic for Patients with Alzheimer’s and Dementia” shows the incredible response of dementia patients to music. If your loved one enjoyed music, that may be a way to reduce their anxiety, as well.
It may take some trial and error but keep at it until you find what works for your loved one. You can see how well it works by watching their physical reaction to the environment. Their shoulders go down, their eyes become focused and their overall demeanor is more peaceful; which in turn creates more calmness in your life. As a caregiver, that helps give you a chance to take a deep breath and know your loved one is OK.
CHARLOTTE FOUST is the caregiver coordinator for AAAX.