Distraction techniques

If the person you care for has a problem with memory loss (dementia), you may find that he or she gets agitated about things that don’t make sense. Your long-retired dad, for instance, may wake up in the mornings and insist, “I have to go to work!” It can be confusing for you. And frustrating!

Disregarding these comments will only make your relative more determined. And it’s pointless to try to reason. The disease has robbed that ability. Instead, spend some time connecting with your loved one in “their reality,” and then distract them.

Compose yourself. Your body language, face, and tone of voice speak volumes. People with dementia still perceive respect versus dismissal. If you need time to calm yourself, make an excuse to get something from the car or to go to the bathroom, so you can return refreshed.

Validate their concern. “Gosh, Dad, I see you are ready to go. I wish I had your enthusiasm about work! Is there something special at work today?” By joining in their emotional reality, you are not telling them they are wrong. They feel reassured you understand.

Distract. Engage them in a fond memory of something related. “Remember your first client back when the business was new? What was it they had you do?” As you reminisce, consider walking together into another room to shift their attention. Once in the other room, draw on their forgetfulness and eventually offer an alternative activity: “I’m hungry. Let’s have breakfast” or “Oh look at that messy walkway! Would you sweep it? That would really help.”

Reflect. If your relative obsesses on things that don’t make sense, look for triggers or the underlying meaning. If Dad associates morning with time to go to work, have a task for him to do that addresses that need—in this case, to feel productive.

Does your loved one get agitated often?
It can be very wearing when a relative gets stuck, especially about things that aren’t real to us. We at Iowa City Hospice have a lot of experience with dementia. As the Iowa City, Muscatine and Cedar Rapids experts in family caregiving, we can help you learn validation and distraction techniques. Give us a call at 1-800-897-3052, toll-free.