Jan 19, 2016

Rechanneling Difficult Behavior Caused by Dementia

Persons living with Alzheimer's are well known for their challenging and difficult behaviors.

Persons living with Alzheimer's are well known for their challenging and difficult behaviors.

Like most Alzheimer's patients my mom, Dotty, could be very difficult and challenging at times.

By Bob DeMarco
Alzheimer's Reading Room

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One problem I noticed early on, was that Dotty would get a very dull look on her face as soon as it started to get dark outside. Of course, this was a moving target depending on time of year, and length of day.

Along with this dull look, Dotty would start acting like she was depressed.

As I was searching for an answer to this problem I read about how scientists were using bright light to improve the mood of person who were suffering from depression.

How to Get a Dementia Patient to Do What You Want Them to Do

I also noticed that Dotty would turn off lights during the day even if we needed them due to the amount of light coming into our home.

Does your loved one turn off the lights and tend to want to sit in the dullness, or darkness?

After thinking about this for a while it occurred to me that bright light, the reverse of darkness, could be the answer to our problem. As it turns out, it was.

In the typical scenario when darkness started to set in Dotty, with that dull look on her face, might say, I want to kill myself (ouch that hurt). Or, she would say, I want to move back to Philadelphia, a place she had not lived in since 1943. This one happened often.

Does your loved one say,

I want to go home often?

Another thing my mother did daily for a long period of time was get up and announce she wanted to start cleaning. This happened when it would get dark around 9 PM. Amazingly, she would announce she needed to clean around 9:37 PM, plus or minus a few minutes, every day, when the days were long.

This by the way is an example of Sundowning --

Sundowning is an Anxiety Syndrome in Dementia Patients

Do you pay attention to the patterns of challenging behavior?

You should.

Dementia Patient Wears the Same Clothes Over and Over

Here are some examples of what I did to combat these types of challenging and difficult behaviors.

In the summer I would do any or all of the following in the late afternoon/early evening.

Custom Search10 Tips for Caregivers

I would take Dotty to the pool for a heavy dose of bright light, and some exercise. Of course, before we would head out to the pool Dotty would be very difficult. For example say immediately, I am not going. I am not going to GD pool. I'll go but I am not getting into the water (this was a separate problem that I also solved). As soon as I had Dotty in the water she would then say - this is wonderful -

We should do this every day.

The injection of bright light improved Dotty's mood - dramatically. And, over time it also changed that dull look on her face.

Another thing that worked quite well was taking for Dotty for a ride in the car when the light was bright. As time went on, and our situation improved, Dotty would start to remark about the beautiful trees, or the beautiful clouds up in the sky.  When Dotty looked up at the clouds she would always say that the cloud looked like a dog. Every time. The memory of a person living with dementia can be fascinating if you look at it the right way.

I learned a lot from this. Alzheimer's patients operate and say things in patterns. Keep your ears open.

Taking Dotty for an ice cream or a coffee and sitting outside also worked very well.

I would also take Dotty to Walmart on cloudy or cold days. The light is bright and she could drive around the store in one on those motorized shopping carts. This also insured that Dotty was using her brain in concert with her hands. Doing crossword puzzles, painting, or working with crafts can also help accomplish this very important mission.

I learned one challenging behavior at a time that there were solutions so every problem. It just takes a while to figure out what that solution might be.

I call this process Bunkhouse Logic. Keep in simple, somehow simple always seems to work best.

One other suggestion.

When your loved on seems dull, expressing sundowning behaviors, becomes difficult or challenging, try to get someone they like to call them on the telephone. Not to talk about the problem, but just to have a nice, fun, phone call.

My sister would frequently call mom around 9 PM. This was one very bad dull period for us. Amazingly, Joanne's call would change Dotty from b**** into a happy camper. Every single time.

You should try this one.

Search the Alzheimer's Reading Room Knowledge Base for Answers to Your Questions, and Solutions to Problems

Don't be a parent. 

A person living with Alzheimer's is not a child.

Related Articles

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About the Alzheimer's Reading Room

Bob DeMarco  is the Founder of the Alzheimer's Reading Room (ARR). The ARR Knowledge Base contains more than 5,000 articles. Bob lives in Delray Beach, FL.

Original content the Alzheimer's Reading Room