The Overstimulation Minimization
Traffic. A crowded room. A busy restaurant with a long wait and lots of loud people in the bar cheering every single time a ball goes through a net.
Do the thoughts of these things make you feel anxious or agitated? Some will, some won’t, but almost everyone has felt apprehensive in a bustling or crowded place at one time or another.
Now imagine how it feels to our loved ones who have some form of dementia. They are already cognitively impaired, so their ability to logically process the situation is highly compromised, and crowded situations like these can be enough to send them into a frenzy of frustration.
When my in-laws first moved to Houston, my father-in-law was living in the mid-stage of Alzheimer’s disease. The move had been tremendously unsettling for him, but one of the most vivid memories I have from that time was his reaction to traffic. Now, to be fair, Houston does have some epic traffic, but there were at least two occasions where Frank’s agitation level rose exponentially just riding in the car with no specific appointment to be somewhere. Both times he seemed like a man on the verge of a panic attack, angrily talking about all the cars: “Why were there so many cars?” and “Where are they all going?” and then back to, “Why are there so many cars?” On one trip, his agitation level grew so high that when we reached our destination, he slammed the car door so hard my husband thought he’d broken the window.
Looking at things from Frank’s point of view, it makes sense he’d be so upset; Alzheimer’s has crippled his ability to coherently manage new information. Consider this: even with your healthy mind, a busy or unfamiliar situation can be very unnerving because sometimes you’re just not sure what’s happening.
Well, enough about the problem! What can we do to help our loved ones with dementia when we know they may struggle in certain situations? The obvious answer would be to keep them out of those types of situations, but it’s not always that easy. For example, we had to drive Frank to the doctor, so there was no way to keep him from “seeing” the heavy traffic.
Reduce the Negative
If you need to drive your loved one somewhere, see if you can go when traffic is a little lighter, perhaps in the middle of the morning after rush hour. If it’s a doctor’s appointment, see if the office has an option for a virtual visit. Also, utilize home health agencies to manage medical care such as physical or occupational therapy.
Engage Senses Other Than Vision
When you do have to take your loved one out, try to play some soothing music in the car, something you know your loved one likes. Encourage them to listen to the melody; it’s amazing how people will recognize and be comforted by a familiar tune, even when they’re living with dementia.
Avoid Places Which May Be Crowded or Loud
Shopping malls can be a great place to pass some time, but they can also become busy in the afternoons and on weekends. Even a patient in the early to mid-stages of Alzheimer’s can easily become overwhelmed in such an environment. Again, timing can be your friend; see if you can arrive just as the mall is opening. That way your loved one can walk around while it’s quiet and there are fewer people moving around.
Try to take the time and ask yourself how you might feel if you were in your loved one’s shoes. Work to avoid situations where they might feel panicked–if that’s an option–rather than just taking them anyway and hoping for the best. Remember: the best care is an artistic blend of love and respect.