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

Friday, October 16, 2020

Magic Tools 5: Distraction

Once I accepted Frank’s view of things and did what I called to myself “playing his game,” life became a lot easier. I’ve even learned to apologize like I mean it! He calms down and then I can usually get him to forget all about being upset by offering to do something fun with him like looking at old photos. Mary

If you haven’t read the earlier blogs in this series, go do that now. They will explain how dementia damages the brain and why Mary’s “playing Frank’s game” works. This is the final blog in the magic tools series and is likely the one you know best, distraction. The magic of distraction is that it refocuses your loved one’s attention away from whatever was causing the unwanted behavior—and makes both of you feel much better.

Distraction works because dementia:
  • Limits a person’s attention span.
  • Decreases their ability to consider more than one thing at a time.
  • Promotes following by impairing the ability to initiate action.
Thus, once you can get your loved one’s attention focused on you instead of their problem behavior, it can be fairly easy to make a suggestion that will draw their attention further away from the situation causing the behavior.

Distractions won’t work if:
  • You don’t have your loved one’s attention. You can’t compete with the attention that strong negative emotions demand.
  • The situation isn’t physically resolved. This must happen for those negative emotions to stop blaring and demanding action.
  • Your loved one isn't interested in your choice of distraction.
What’s a good distraction? It will work best if:
  • You are enthusiastic about it too. Your loved one is a follower and so if you want to do it, it will be easier to convince them to do it too.
  • It is attractive to your loved one, and is something they enjoy. This will vary with each person.
  • It is sweet. Dementia damages the ability to taste but the sweet taste buds are the last to be affected. Ice cream is usually a good bet...sweet, with a cold kick as well.
  • It has some physical aspect, since your loved one functions better physically than they do mentally.
  • It moves your loved one physically from the location where the behavior was occurring, thus eliminating visual triggers for a recurrence of the behavior. Start you offer with "Let's go....(somewhere else!)"
  • It is positive. Make it a happy event or you are likely to re-invite the negative behavior.
OK, we’ve talked about some “magic” tools. Now let’s put them to work! The next series of blogs are about the LEADER Principles of Interaction, guides for using these tools with a variety of dementia-related behaviors.

For more information about Lewy body disorders, read our books:

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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