So, you’re helping care for a loved one with dementia. As you know, their behavior can border from pleasant to downright hostile. Most misbehavior is due to their own confusion, so it can be challenging to correct this behavior. Still, we can’t just let them act out, can we? No, but we can reduce instances of misbehavior in two ways. 

Tactic 1: Opt for diversion in place of head-on confrontation.  

While there’s nothing wrong with asking a loved one to cease an unhelpful behavior, there’s no reason why such correction should become a confrontation. Becoming stern, impatient, or visibly annoyed with a dementia patient will only escalate tensions. Instead, attempt to divert attention away from the misbehavior.

Tactic 2: Remove the factors that contribute to misbehavior. 

If addressing misbehavior to someone with dementia fixed the issue, that’s great! Unfortunately, this is rarely effective in the long term. While usually not spiteful, a loved one experiencing cognitive decline either (a) won’t remember that you asked them not to do something or (b) won’t realize that they’re even doing what they’re doing. 

So, what can you do? Remove the obstacle. 

Let’s say that the dementia patient you’re caring for has a bad habit of automatically throwing away all their mail as though it’s junk mail. Maybe they had a habit of throwing out junk mail before, but now important bills and letters wind up in the trash. Instead of scolding them about this behavior, you can make sure that all mail goes through you before it ever gets to them. By doing this, you remove the likelihood that they can throw unopened mail away and remove a potential negative encounter with them. 

Have a reason for your environmental change ready. 

If you have changed the environment to reduce the likelihood of bad behavior (for example, you get the mail from the mailbox instead of them), the person may ask why the change has taken place. Instead of telling them that you’re doing so because of their misbehavior, have another reason ready. Perhaps, say that you enjoy getting the mail or receiving something that they don’t—some form of coupons they treat as junk mail, etc. Choose an excuse to defuse any confrontations preemptively. 

Preserve the Positivity

Though we may feel more like parents to children than caregivers to loved ones with dementia, it’s important to remember that this is not the dynamic to foster. These are not children who learn from their mistakes and can be told what to do. These are adults who deserve a semblance of autonomy while likely not capable of retaining the information you give them. To preserve the positivity in their home or care center, the best approach is to reduce the opportunity for bad behaviors to occur in the first place. In this way, you can avoid difficult conversations and negative emotions.

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