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Finding the positives in the negatives in dementia care

Posted by on 3/17/2015
By changing the way a caregiver looks at actions of the person with dementia and how the caregiver responds, the results can change potential negative moments into positive ones.  Joanne Koenig Coste, author of "Learning to Speak Alzheimer's", and caregiver for husband with vascular dementia, gives some good tips for staying positive, despite the negative course of the disease.  I have added real person examples I have encountered in my work as an occupational therapist, to further explain.

5 Caregiver Tips for Staying Positive with the Person with Alzheimer's Disease

  1.  "The person with dementia may forget what caused an emotional response (joy or upset, for example) but may experience that feeling for a long time after", Joy says. I have experienced this when spending time with people, doing activities. Later, even though they no longer they remember my name or what we did, they smile warmly at me as though we have some special secret.
  2. "Strive for positive interactions and offer encouragement". There can never be too many 'good job!' or 'thanks for helping me!' sentiments as you go throughout the day. Positive reinforcement can lead to positive feelings.
  3. "Minimize angry reactions, as the feelings and mood that result is not easy to overcome". I witnessed this yesterday, with a gentleman with dementia who became upset on his way to his physical therapy session. He could not find his key to lock his assisted living apartment and was frustrated by that. It went downhill from there for the therapist and patient. Even though  a bit later the patient did not remember the key incident anymore, he was angry and adamant that he was not going to do the exercise the physical therapist was asking him to do. Validate the person's feelings and let him talk about his 'bad day'. Then switch the redirect the focus to something new.  Learn more about anger in the person with dementia
  4. "Caregiver frustration that the person with dementia does the same thing over and over, can be reframed as an opportunity for feelings of usefulness for the person". Set the person up to do repetitive tasks, such as folding cloth napkins, washing the window, lining up dominoes, using a lightweight vacuum.
  5. "Don't focus on weaknesses; instead look for strengths". Capabilities remain at every stage of the disease. Reframe from what the person CAN'T do to celebrating what the person CAN DOLearn more about what the person can do at different stages of dementia
Keep this 5 Tip list handy as a reminder of the positives, as you navigate the days.

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