Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's or another type of dementia can be challenging. So-called "behavioral symptoms of dementia" – challenging behaviors often occurring when a person has dementia – contribute significantly to care challenges and caregiver burnout.
People with dementia are also affected by challenging behaviors, causing distress and disconnection and difficult feelings such as frustration, guilt, and shame. As a result, behaviors often convey information about what's wrong in the person's life – and when we can uncover what's wrong and address it, the behavior resolves, and everyone feels better.
Behavior is a form of communication. When dementia affects a person's ability to remember, reason, find words or express themselves effectively, they rely on behavior to communicate that something's wrong.
People's behavior can, however, be difficult to interpret. It usually takes sharp observational skills, understanding of behavioral communication, and familiarity with the individual's routines and quirks.
Aside from all that, it often involves detailed notes and trial and error. Nevertheless, caring for a loved one with dementia is exhausting enough without adding any additional steps.
Identifying the message in the behavior often requires recording and tracking details about each behavior to spot patterns that may provide valuable clues. It may be a lot of work, but it is worth it. There may be a lot to do, but the effort is well worth it. When we recognize the message in the behavior, we discover the key to resolving it.
Behavior support emphasizes a proactive approach to problem-solving, addressing issues early – before they even occur when possible. When we tackle problems proactively, our loved ones with dementia reap tremendous benefits, which ripples toward us, caregivers.
Behavior tracking and a proactive approach to problem-solving can help ensure your loved one:
Deciphering dementia behaviors comes more naturally to some people than others. When you're drowning in responsibilities, a partner can make a world of difference in your outcome. In addition to encouragement and a kind ear, a teammate can offer additional insights, helpful suggestions, and alternative points of view you may not have yet considered.
Look for a partner with a strong understanding of behavioral communication in dementia.
Not all healthcare providers are familiar with behavioral communication. Unless your loved one's doctor has special training or experience with dementia, they may easily miss the message they're trying to convey.
This can lead to medication that doesn't address the underlying problem, doesn't alleviate the behavior, and may cause additional issues. A good behavior support partner (or behavior tracking approach) captures objective information about your loved one's behavior and translates it into data their doctor can understand and address effectively.
A good behavior support partner understands:
Dementia behavioral communication can be tracked and decoded on your own if necessary, even with a partner. Learn and practice as much as you can, and it'll feel more natural and successful over time.
Learn more about deciphering the message and behavior tracking in dementia care, or read more about Appreciating Behavioral Communication in Dementia at my blog ABC Dementia.