Sometimes, people with dementia can become upset. This can take many forms, such as pacing or asking repeated questions. In these situations, caregivers can have a hard time understanding what might be contributing to the behavior and knowing how to react in a way that preserves the person’s dignity.
It’s important to remember, though, that when a senior with dementia becomes upset, it isn’t because they are trying to be difficult. In fact, it is usually a sign that they are struggling with an unmet need that they aren’t able to communicate to a caregiver or loved one. This is called a “behavioral expression” and more accurately describes what a person with memory loss experiences.
“Behavioral expressions are simply a person’s expression of an unmet need or desire,” says Rita Altman, Senior Vice President of Memory Care & Program Services at Sunrise Senior Living. “Don’t we all get a little frustrated when we don’t feel understood?”
Diminished verbal skills make it tough for a senior with dementia to express what they need. As a friend or family member, investigating potential reasons for their behavior is usually the best approach.
Common Triggers That Can Upset Seniors with Dementia
By taking time to explore and consider each of these triggers, you will likely uncover the deeper reason that your senior loved one is upset.
Here are a few of the most common ones:
As you are trying to pinpoint what might be causing your senior loved one's negative reactions, it might help to keep a journal. Document the events that happened prior to them becoming upset, along with any changes in the environment or daily routine.
Once you get to know your loved one’s triggers, you can create a personalized plan to avoid those situations. And, you can better manage your loved one’s emotions when they arise.
“You should discover ways to help fulfill your loved one’s desire to feel safe, secure and heard,” says Altman. “That may involve using open-ended questions, creating structured daily routines, and using a calm voice. They key is verbal and nonverbal communication – always meeting them where they are.”
Listen to The Senior Caregiver Podcast
Looking for more information on behavioral expressions and how to connect with your loved one? We invite you to listen to The Senior Caregiver podcast. This podcast can help you learn more about the many nuances of Alzheimer’s disease and how to navigate the journey with your loved one.