“What on Earth is She Doing?” Behaviors and Alzheimer’s Disease



For the millions of Americans diagnosed with a dementia disorder, the disease actually damages the brain in ways that can cause mysterious and even frightening behaviors in even the most mild-mannered person.   Caring for someone with dementia is a labor of love, but the behaviors that can occur as the disease progresses often strain even the most dedicated and loving relationships.  When the strain becomes too great, the caregiver has to find help.  Fortunately, caregivers who reach out for help are finding more and better information than ever before.

Making sense of the repetitive, strange and even childlike behaviors that occur in the person with dementia is not easy, but one geriatric psychologist has developed an experience that can help caregivers understand that those behaviors are actually predictable reactions of a person desperately trying to do their best under very trying conditions.

PK Beville, M.S., is founder of the non-profit Second Wind Dreams® organization, and has developed the Virtual Dementia Tour®, for family and professional caregivers.  The experience, which takes about 20 minutes to complete, creates temporary confusion and physical impairment in the volunteer, who is then asked to complete a series of simple tasks.  Participants who entered the experience as “normal” quickly find that their behaviors during the experience are remarkably similar to their loved ones with dementia.  What was formerly seen as a problem behavior is now understood as a coping mechanism or a way to communicate.  Studies have shown that caregivers who have sensitivity to the experience of dementia can see through the disease to better bond with and comfort

the person with dementia.  With understanding comes compassion.

For those who do not have access to the experience, Ms. Beville offers the following suggestions for caregivers:

Offer Ample Time.  Give simple commands, and realize that the person with dementia may not understand or remember all that you have asked of them.  Be prepared to prompt and help them.  Try to avoid doing everything for them—this results in excess dependence and subsequent depression.

Be Calm.  Eliminate excess noise and visual distractions, which can cause the person with dementia to try to concentrate on too many things at once.

Do Not Argue.  The brain is actually damaged, which can cause the person with dementia to misinterpret reality.  Provide reassurance and try to redirect them to a happier topic.

Treat for pain.  Pacing and bad moods can be a sign of pain.

Encourage independence and positive self-esteem by providing simple choices, and allowing safe wandering.  People with dementia find comfort following others.

Understand that the language of Alzheimer’s is not spoken and is expressed through behavior.  Caregivers who communicate best must use all their senses.

The James L West Alzheimer’s Center offers the Virtual Dementia Tour ®, caregiver training classes, residential and adult day services, and individual counseling for families. Contact Jaime Cobb in Caregiver Services, at (817) 877-1199, or jcobb@jameslwest.org.

Submitted by James L West Alzheimer’s Center

Contact (817)877–1199

Visit: www.jameslwest.org