Tips for Comforting an Alzheimer’s Patient Who is in Distress
June 21 2022
How Caregivers can Help Patients Cope with Agitation and Aggression due to Dementia
It is not uncommon for a patient with dementia or Alzheimer’s to become agitated or even aggressive. In fact, both of these symptoms will worsen as the disease progresses. It can be difficult to see a memory loss patient in such distress, however, with the right techniques, you can help comfort the patient or at the very least, help keep them safe.
Symptoms and The Cause
Agitation is when a person is restless or worried. You’ll feel like the patient is unable to settle down and it can cause pacing, sleeplessness, or aggression, which is when the patient lashes out verbally or physically to harm someone.
While it might seem that these symptoms turn up for no reason, certain things can trigger these symptoms. This means that if you isolate the cause, you might even be able to help prevent many episodes of distress.
Isolating a Trigger
Some things that may trigger agitation or aggression in dementia patients include:
- Depression or stress
- Too little rest or sleep
- Soiled underwear/diaper
- Sudden change in a well-known place, routine, or person
- A feeling of loss
- Too much noise or confusion or too many people in the room (overstimulation)
- Being pushed by others to do something
- Feeling lonely/not having enough contact with other people
- Interaction of medications
To help discover what is triggering your patient or loved one’s distress, keep a journal. Write down each time they are agitated or aggressive and some things that were happening prior to the distress. This can help you recognize patterns and even begin to learn early warning signs of problem behaviors, helping you to comfort the patient before it gets worse.
Tips for Coping with Aggression or Agitation
Before we get into listing some tips for helping patients cope with their distress, it’s first important to understand that if the person with dementia is “imagining” themselves in a particular scenario, it is key that you don’t correct them on what the reality is. For example, if a patient was once a teacher and thinks they are interacting with an unruly student, don’t correct them and tell them that isn’t real. Trying to correct them on this can only cause further distress for them. Instead, follow these tips:
- Reassure the patient. Be sure that you speak calmly and never raise your voice. Listen to their concerns and frustrations. Show empathy and that you understand if they are fearful or angry. Never dismiss someone’s feelings or emotions.
- Allow the patient to keep as much control over their personal life as is safely reasonable. Be sure to keep them from getting into dangerous situations, like wandering around outside where they could get lost or hurt. Installing a home alarm system that notifies you when a door is opened can help you keep an eye on the patient and direct them back inside if they manage to wander outside.
- Keep to a routine, such as bathing, dressing, and eating at the same time each day. Sticking to a routine can help cut down on confusion.
- Build quiet time into the daily routine, along with activities. Quiet time can help the patient from becoming overwhelmed and overstimulated.
- Reduce noise, clutter, and the number of people in the room. Again, this can help the patient from becoming overstimulated.
- Keep well-loved objects and photographs around the house to help the patient feel more secure. Removing items, even if they seem trivial to you, can set off agitation or aggression.
- If you notice the patient starting to feel distressed try gentle touching, soothing music, reading, or going for a walk in a quiet place together. You can also use the art of distraction, such as offering the person a favorite snack, object, or activity to redirect them.
- Limit the amount of caffeine, sugar, and junk food the patient consumes.
Alzheimer’s and dementia patients can also pick up on your own mood. If you feel like your own worries may be affecting the patient, slow down and try to relax. It’s also important to take a break from caregiving. As a professional caregiver, be sure to take advantage of your days off and vacation time. For family caregivers, take advantage of respite care and accept help from family and friends.
It is not possible to stop all episodes of distress in the patient. If they become extremely aggressive, it is important to protect yourself and others. Try to stop the patient from hurting themselves, and if you have to protect yourself, stay a safe distance from the person until the behavior stops.
Living with memory loss can be difficult to deal with and is often confusing. It can also be difficult to care for someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s, especially if you are a family caregiver. Watching your loved one decline like that is emotionally difficult. However, by recognizing triggers and patterns, you can ease or prevent patient distress, making life more enjoyable and fulfilling for the patient!