Of the many and varied effects of Alzheimer’s disease, distress is one of the more difficult to manage. Maintaining a sense of calm yourself, and mastering effective calming strategies to help the senior, are crucial for the wellbeing of both the person with dementia and yourself.
Dementia care expert Teepa Snow recommends the following four techniques to address the root cause of the senior’s distress and to effectively de-escalate strong, negative emotions and behaviors
Step into the person’s shoes. When a senior with dementia is distressed, mimicking that distress, combined with active listening techniques, lets the person know you empathize with his or her feelings. Try repeating back what you hear the senior saying in a similarly distressed tone of voice. This will reassure the person that you’re in this together, and that you accept and understand the feelings being experienced.
Utilize the “hand over hand” method. In a time of perceived distress, it’s typical for a senior with dementia to reach one or both hands out to you for help. Take one of the person’s hands, placing your hand beneath the senior’s palm, and then place your other hand on top. Note that standing on the person’s dominant side is always most comfortable for those with dementia.
Focus on exaggerated, deep breathing. Now that you’ve expressed your distress in conjunction with the senior’s, and are providing comfort by holding hands, begin taking deep breaths, emphasizing the exhale through the mouth. This allows for a better flow of oxygen and helps restore calm.
Squeeze/release the hands. Begin a gentle pumping motion with your hands, with a repeating squeeze and release – like a heartbeat. The pressure should be applied from your bottom hand, against the senior’s palm, while the top hand provides an extra measure of comfort.
Throughout each of these steps, watch the senior closely to gauge reactions, and switch tactics if you sense a particular one is causing additional unsettled emotions.
For more tips and resources to help with effective management of difficult behaviors in dementia, call on THE MEDICAL TEAM. Our caregivers are highly skilled in specialized care for those with Alzheimer’s, and are on hand to help as much or as little as needed.