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Dementia's Biggest Challenges and How to Deal with Them


The challenges of dementia are many. Educating yourself and not taking things personally are two of the best things you can do. That said, there are a few effective strategies for specific issues.

1. Problem Behaviors: Agitation and Aggression

One specific approach for this issue is to try to figure out the cause of the problem behavior. For example, is your loved one in a new environment? If so, try to make it more familiar by introducing longtime possessions or cherished music. Analyze what happened in the moments before your loved one started acting out; could there have been a trigger?

No matter what you do, don’t escalate the situation. Keep your reaction soothing and calm. Try to look past the behavior to the emotions underlying it. Your loved one could be hungry, tired or frustrated.

2. Wandering

Your loved one may be part of the lucky four in 10 people with Alzheimer’s who don’t wander. Otherwise, you have a huge challenge on your hands. The National Alzheimer’s Association has a program that uses ID jewelry and alerts to help get a wanderer home safely. You should also give your name and information to neighbors in case they see your loved one out alone. But you can strive to prevent that wandering in the first place. Things you can do include:

  • Putting alert devices on doors, windows and other entrance/exit points.
  • Having someone supervise your loved one at all times. (often difficult and expensive).
  • Using night lights throughout the entire house, limiting your loved one’s drinks before bed and making a bathroom trip right before they go to sleep.
  • Placing your loved one in a memory care center. The centers are specifically designed to safeguard against wandering, and they can assist in managing the many other challenges of dementia.

If you’ve searched for 15 minutes and cannot find your loved one, dial 911. Also file a report with the Alzheimer’s Association.

3. Delusions

Delusions are perhaps the most heartbreaking among the challenges of dementia. They may include your loved one mistaking you for someone else or asking about a person long dead. They can also take the form of suspicion; accusations of cheating or stealing are common.

You can respond in several ways, and it might take some experimenting to see which approaches are most effective. They include:

  • Redirecting attention. Something simple as, “Help me find a book about ducks,” can be a good start.
  • Buying multiples of commonly lost items. Often, the best way to dodge accusations of wallet theft is to have several of the same kind around.
  • Preventing escalation. Don’t infringe into your loved one’s reality by saying, “You’re wrong,” or “You’re a terrible person.” Instead, listen, and if appropriate, offer a comment or thought.

Dementia is never an easy disorder to deal with. Support groups and online message boards help you know you’re not alone and may offer creative ideas for dealing with challenges.