With dementia, stress and upset become par for the course in a large proportion of early to mid stage people. Being able to help them calm down is a basic and necessary tool in your box to make not only your own life easier in coping with dementia, but theirs too.
This is what we want to do, but we know their brains work differently from ours, so our regular techniques are just not going to cut it. There’s no point in losing tempers with them, or trying to explain why they’re safe or don’t need to be worried.
They are scared, afraid, anxious, threatened, concerned and possible all of them at once. This is their reality, so don’t try to convince them that they’re wrong. Dementia will always win the argument.
Appeal to their FEELINGS
The cruel thing about dementia is that it robs people of memories, ability, bodily functions and reason, yet it leaves behind all those feelings we all feel on a daily basis. Couple those feelings in a heightened state at the new strange world around them, and you’re about a quarter of the way to understanding the problem.
1 – Acceptance.
Accept what they are saying is real. Whether it is true or not isn’t the issue. It’s what the believe to be true, and how they FEEL about what they believe which is important.
- Agree with them that you understand what their fears are, even if you don’t believe.
- Repeat what they say back to them, to try to fully gauge the extent of their worries.
- Use your own language to let them know you believe them and believe their fears.
- Let them think you are supporting them with their fears, not trying to persuade them the fears don’t exist.
2 – Touch.
If possible and appropriate, give them comfort once you have let them know you understand their fears or concerns.
- Offer a hand to hold, as this might give them a little peace. Don’t force it on them or try to touch them without their permission.
- Stay at a comfortable distance with your body. Too close will invade their personal space and might cause an increased anxious response.
- If the person is bedbound and agitated, do they respond to hair being stroked, or cream rubbed into their hands, or a pat on the back of the hand?
3 – Breathing.
We want them to mimic our actions.
- Take long, slow, obvious breaths, to allow them to see and hear our own breathing. We want them to copy what we do, even if we don’t tell them to do it.
- Form an O with your mouth as you breathe out, and if you are holding a hand, lightly add some pressure with a pat on the exhale.
4 – Be prepared to take action.
- If you have managed to find out the problem, try to eliminate it.
- Remove a problem rather than trying to persuade them it doesn’t exist. If they believe an ornament is a camera, remove it. If they think they are being spied on, close the curtains, if they think you are an alien from outer space, go with it, and allow them to think you are a nice friendly one.
- If they think you are their mother, when you are their daughter, go along with it.
5 – Watch them closely.
- Are they comforted by what you are doing?
- Do they feel safe with you?
- Distract with music, soft words, appropriate lighting, removing loud noises, read to them and many more things you can try.
- Redirect them to a book, some pens to colour with, a favourite singer or movie.
Most of all – good luck. Calming someone with dementia who is also agitated, is often a very difficult thing to do.