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Caregiving Tips - Dementia

Managing Difficult Behaviors in Dementia

Millions of Americans have a diagnosis of dementia. Caring for someone with dementia can be a difficult and rewarding job. Difficult behaviors may present themselves during the various stages of dementia.

Most of you caring for a Veteran with dementia will experience at least one difficult behavior that leaves you feeling overwhelmed, unsure about what to do, and even surprised to see your loved one acting this way.

Universal Rules to De-Escalate Difficult Behaviors

  • Try not to personalize the behavior but recognize the dementia is causing the changes in your loved one
  • For any sudden or escalation in behaviors, seek medical advice to ensure there is no underlying medical condition or pain attributing to the behavior
  • Reassure and agree instead of reasoning and arguing
  • Share a memory or reminisce versus saying “Remember”
  • Dissect the behavior to help give you a better understanding of possible triggers
  • Remain as calm and patient as you can

Managing Common Difficult Behaviors

  • Resistance to Bathing
    • Experiment with changing days and times of days of bathing
    • Ensure the environment is comfortable and free from distractions
    • Allow them some control over actions they are still able to do
    • Make simple and direct statements such as “Your bath is ready!
    • Consider equipment such as a shower chair and hand held showerhead
  • Eating and Motivating to Eat
    • Find a meal time routine and try to stick to it
    • Keep the meal place setting simple and free from distractions
    • Reintroduce foods they may have liked in the distant past
    • Provide smaller meals throughout the day
    • Prepare meals together so they know it
  • Incontinence
    • Consult with medical providers to rule out an underlying medical condition
    • Try a toileting schedule bringing them to the bathroom every few hours
    • Consider incontinence products such as waterproof sheets, adult briefs and pads
    • Pay attention to non-verbal cues such as pulling at their pants or pacing
  • Agitation
    • Create a calm and soothing environment decorating with their favorite color or playing soothing music
    • Use reassuring words such as “you are safe”
    • Find activities that your loved one enjoys and enjoyed doing
    • Be aware of the impact of changes in their environment
  • Wandering
    • Provide structure, a routine and activities to keep them reassured and busy
    • Ensure basic needs are met as they could be restless because they are hungry or need to go to the bathroom
    • Use childproof knobs on the doors and camouflage doors to deter them from leaving
    • Enroll in a Safe Return or Medic Alert so they can be assisted when found wandering

Coping and Resources

Need Help?

Caregiver Support Coordinator
Your local Caregiver Support Coordinator is a licensed professional who can support you by matching you with services for which you are eligible, and providing you with valuable information about resources that can help you stay smart, strong and organized as you care for the Veteran you love. Enter your zip code to view contact information for your area.

Caregiver Support Line
With VA's Caregiver Support Line – 1-855-260-3274 – assistance is just a quick phone call away. If you're just getting started with VA, calling the Caregiver Support Line is a great first step to take to learn more about the support that's available to you.

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