They refer to it as the Dementia Epidemic. As many as 5.2 million people in America are living with this disease.
To review: Dementia is an umbrella term describing a variety conditions that develop when nerve cells in the brain die or no longer function normally. The damages to these nerve cells cause changes in one’s memory, behavior and ability to think clearly
In the next installment in the series, I’d like to discuss a common trait exhibited by individuals diagnosed with dementia: Repetitive behavior. That behavior may be exhibited as an action- like searching for something, changing the channels on the remote, or verbally-like repeating a question, or making the same statement over and over.
For caregivers, repetitive behavior is enough to get on your last nerve.
You may remember Bill Murray’s memorable performance in Goundhog Day, the 1993 movie where he plays Phil- a TV weatherman doomed to live out the same day every day, for the rest of his life. Answering the same question over and over, day after day can make you feel like Phil, and you are certainly not alone.
First let’s talk about some of the reasons a person with dementia may repeat. The most obvious reason is short term memory loss. Sometimes dementia progresses to the point where the sufferer actually forgets they just asked that question, even in the midst of conversation. So they ask it again. And again. Other reasons can include the inability to grasp what’s going on. Feeling unsure about their situation leads to anxiety and stress. That one question or statement may in fact be the only cognitive thought they can express, so they repeat it. Boredom is a contributing factor as well. If the person with dementia has no social stimulation and no daily activities in which to engage, the mind can simply travel in a “loop” with no outlet. As an example, a woman may endlessly search for her purse, others may seek their car keys all day long. These behaviors may be a non-verbal expression that they just want something to do.
As caregiver, realize that you can’t correct repetitive behavior, but you can learn to cope, anticipate and distract.
This is what I mean: When “Mom” asks her son for the fifth time in a row “Where is my purse?” …and the son responds, “Now Mom, for the fifth time your purse is in your closet in your bedroom! We just talked about that. Remember? Its in your closet where it always is!” He’s trying to correct her behavior, and trying to get her to remember -which of course she can’t do- and both of them are frustrated.
Coping with repetitive behavior can be a challenge, and anticipating the behavior can help ease the strain. Using the above example, let’s see how anticipating the behavior would help the son to cope. The son, anticipating his Mothers anxiety over her purse, makes sure her purse is in her lap as soon as she’s up and dressed. She may still ask “where’s my purse?”, but a simple “Mom, it’s in your lap” may just result in a chuckle instead of a fuss.
Distracting is another effective strategy. Again using the above example, Mom asks her son “Where is my purse?” and the son distracts her attention away from the question with one of his own…” Look out the window, Mom, I wonder what kind of bird that is…” could lead to conversation and away from the sought after item. For at least a little while…
Keeping the dementia patient as active as possible can also do wonders to reduce repetitive behavior. Try getting them out of the house for at least some period of time each day. Using a walker with wheels to help steady the gait and occupy the hands can help. Even just being pushed outdoors in a wheelchair gets fresh air in the lungs and makes everybody feel better. Keeping hands busy with simple tasks can help combat boredom. Music can be an amazing gateway to stimulate the mind- read more about how effective music therapy can be. SpinLife.com carries many products that can help caregivers care for dementia patients, request a catalog or visit our website to see our full line.
Dementia is a progressive disease, and learning to manage your loved one’s care will be a work in progress…stay tuned for further articles on coping with dementia, and God Bless