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Resistant Behavior with Dementia

angry senior female

Resistant Behavior with Dementia


Whether the diagnosis is Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, behavior undeniably changes and resistance is inevitable. What were once regular daily habits, routines, and tasks may be now seen as stilted or repetitively performed. Or, in the case of personal hygiene, for example, they may be stubbornly avoided.

Changes in a loved one’s behavior, whether negative or merely passive, is very disconcerting to family members, and especially adult children. This is not the mom or dad they remember. This is no longer the person who led a household; they are now the one in need.

Frustration and the Big “No!”
Much has been written about how to manage the daily tasks of a frustrated loved one with dementia. But it’s also vital that as a primary caregiver, you understand, manage, and forgive your feelings when faced with illogical behavior.

It’s normal to be both sad and angry; investing in self-care can help keep these feelings from spilling over into other areas of your life. And, one of the best ways to address angry feelings is to cultivate empathy, an understanding of your parent’s likely reasons for “NO!”

Mom: Why won’t you just …
Mom was always so meticulous in her appearance; “I can’t understand why she fights with me about haircuts, clipping her nails or wearing that same blue blouse four days in a row! Now she yells at me, walks away –once she even pinched me!”

Agitation is normal; it’s a typical “symptom” of a very confused mind.

Activities like bathing, dressing, eating, and drinking were once private and personal choices for your parent, and ones that mom may have really enjoyed. But with dementia, activities of daily living must be performed against a dissonant background of declining sight, vision, increased sensory sensitivity, and, most of all, a loss of independence. Much like a frustrated toddler, a person with cognitive decline may revert to behavior that seems not unlike that of a frustrated three-year-old.

Potential physical causes
Is your loved one depressed? Loss of independence, peers, a former lifestyle may all be contributing factors. This is an excellent time to review what you’re experiencing with his/her doctor. If mom has been prescribed medication, is someone responsible for seeing that she is taking it as prescribed?

Has she lost weight recently, or is she not eating a balanced diet? Nutrient deficiencies can play a role in behavioral changes as well. Make sure mom is also getting enough to drink, is warm enough, and that issues with hearing and vision are addressed. Enough sleep is also a factor in resistant behaviors.

Tips for Managing Refusals
1. Be it a lack of understanding, pride, fear, or a physical cause that brings out the “no’s,” here are a few suggestions that may help minimize them:

2. Bring in an intermediary – a professional caregiver, for example –may be better suited to taking the lead versus you, her child.

3. Can you engage one of mom’s close friends to help with specific tasks like eating breakfast or lunch?

4. Appeal to mom’s emotion: Suggest instead of taking over; ask permission before doing.

5. When engaging a professional caregiver, introduce her as a friend enthusiastically. Have the professional use mom’s preferred name – Ms. Judy, Mrs. Worthing, Judy –often.

6. Ask a small favor of mom, or ask your caregiver to do so. When the mind gives agreement, it connects the affirmative action with good feelings for the person doing the asking.

7. Acknowledge frustration and mirror back empathy and an understanding of their feelings. Or, divert mom’s attention to another, more enjoyable task. “Hey, mom, look at these beautiful pansies on the windowsill; let’s take a look at them!”

Frustration and resistance are often a part of disease progression, so don’t take it to heart. Commit to focusing on the next good moment. Because Alzheimer’s disease and dementia patients live in the present moment, beyond the irritating moments, there is quickly space for intimate and unforgettable beautiful memories as well.

Angel Companions caregivers are specially trained and experienced in working with families whose loved one is dealing with the various types of dementia. If you’re feeling exasperated or at a loss about how to cultivate a more balanced family life of your own and want to know best practices for helping mom or dad, give us a call. Professional caregiving is our business, and your family’s health and security is our mission.

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