Understanding and Working with People Who are Elderly and Having Signs and Symptoms of Dementia

by: Matthew E. Brauss RN, CHPN

Download Article on DenentiaMany elderly people may begin to display forgetfulness, confusion, losing items, or getting lost, and doing things that are out of character for them as you remember. The brain, the organ that controls everything, changes as we age. The perception of the elderly or person with dementia may not be real. Try to remember; Their Perceptions are Their Reality; they can say something looks blue but you see the same thing but it looks green. The elderly person doesn’t want to argue with you, but they perceive things differently. This can include time of day, day of the week even the year. You may be able to reorient them temporarily. Raising your voice or arguing with them will not help. This may cause them to become more anxious and confused or agitated. There is also something called “sundowners” where the person may feel more anxious and more confused, as the sun goes down in the afternoon or early evening, leading to different behaviors. It is real. The following are some helpful guiding beliefs and ideas in caring for the elderly.

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  1. Caring for the elderly and people with dementia is like raising children in reverse. These people will become more dependent on the caregivers, but like teenagers, they may argue and fight over what you, the caregiver, wants them to do. This can be hurtful to a son or daughter trying their best to care for them. The person you are caring for does not intentionally want to fight and argue, their brain is changing and sometimes the person loses ability to reason or their inhibitions by exhibiting cussing, and yelling or striking out.
  2. An elderly person or one with dementia perceives things in their own way. Their Perception is Their Reality and the caregiver may not be able to convince them differently. This may lead to frustration, raising your voice or trying to get the elderly to do something they just can’t do. It is easier to lead the elderly gently, taking them by the hand and leading them to the bathroom or kitchen table. You may give them a command they don’t understand. A gentle guiding approach takes longer but provides more little successes.
  3. You are not alone. The Alzheimer’s Association usually has a list of support groups so you can learn and feel supported. There needs to be some place or some one person where the caregiver can express their feelings, vent their frustrations and feel listened to. The purpose of finding a place or person is gives the caregiver the opportunity to talk, not to fix the problem for them but just to feel like someone is listening. Just listen.
  4. If you know someone going through this be a “friend”. Take over dinner or dessert to their house, plan on staying a brief time unless they ask you to stay. Follow up on a regular basis. Let the caregiver know you are concerned about them and that you care, this is often a big help.

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