The Whitworths of Arizona, bringing science to you in everyday language.

Friday, September 18, 2020

The Magic of the Right Tools, Pt. 1

Jim monitors several online LBD caregiver support groups. Lately, he’s been reading a lot of entries from distraught care partners who are can’t understand why their old tried and true ways of interacting with their loved one no longer work.

When we talk about tools for managing a loved one’s apparently irrational behavior, we need to start with a couple of things that may not appear to have anything to do with the behavior that is showing up. We call these the checks: checking the health and environment. Our books about LBD (see below) all have chapters that address these issues. But briefly:

Health Checks: Dementia changes the rules. But somethings don’t change, especially concerning health. Your loved one still has the same health issues, except that now dealing with the dementia takes up a lot of the body’s reserves and so their health problems may get worse. Infections are also much more common. All of these can cause your loved one pain and distress.
  • When a person has lost the ability to communicate, which can happen on with LBD, they will use behavior as communication.
  • Even if they can communicate, they may not even be aware of a specific pain—they just feel bad and again, express their pain with behavior.
Before you consider any other reason for your loved one’s behaviors, check their health. Look for bruises, consider a urinary or other infection and check other health issues specific to your loved one. You might be surprised at how fixing one of these can change their behavior--like magic!

Environment Checks: Dementia changes so much that your loved one really needs the stability of an unchanged environment. Familiarity is a friend and change is the foe. In an environment where you loved one feels comfortable and safe, unwanted behavior decreases.
  • Keep your home d├ęcor the same. Even holiday decorations can be an unwelcome change and should be used sparingly.
  • Set up routines and do everything with your loved one the same as much as possible. Routines are magic for helping your loved one to feel in control of their ever-changing life. The more routines in their life, the safer they feel. And the safer they feel, the less behavior you can expect.
Then, if you’ve determined that to the best of your knowledge, the reason for the behavior isn’t health or environment related, it is probably due to YOUR behavior! Yes, yours! But the good news is that unlike your loved one, who can't make changes, YOU can change. You can learn new ways of relating with your loved one. New tools. With these, you can change your behavior and then, lead your loved one into changed behavior of their own.

Next week’s blog will discuss how dementia changes the brain and address why it is necessary to change your behavior if you want your loved one’s to change.

For more information about Lewy body disorders, read our books:
A Caregivers’ Guide to Lewy Body Dementia
Managing Cognitive Issues in Parkinson's and Lewy Body Dementia
Responsive Dementia Care: Fewer Behaviors Fewer Drugs
Lewy Body Dementia: A Manual for Staff

Helen and James Whitworth are not doctors, lawyers or social workers. As informed caregivers, they share the information here for educational purposes only. It should never be used instead of a professional's advice.

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