1. Learn as much as you can about your partner living with dementia – even for a family member you'd be surprised about how much you actually don't know. Ask people who have grew up around them or that they've spent considerable time with.
I'll give you an example, so I'm pretty weird and I do weird random things all the time. The only person who actually knows this though is my partner – he's seen it all. Now, let's say my mom started taking care of me and I started doing something that seems strange to her. She might think, "What in the world, I've never seen her do this or say something like that, is this normal?" Meanwhile, my partner would be like, "Oh, yup, that's definitely a thing, she's done that for years." Do you get what I mean?
Knowing as much as you can about your partner's temperament, habits, quirks, hobbies, work history, relationship dynamics with people in their life, etc. will give you so much needed insight.
2. Determine if a problem or challenging behavior is really a problem. There are somethings that your partner may do that are annoying, frustrating, or worrisome, but if it's not causing them or you considerable distress and it doesn't pose a safety concern, then, it may be worth taking a second thought about whether it's REALLY necessary to intervene...and if you do, what would be the goal and why?
For example, your mom talking to and petting the imaginary cat, your dad repeatedly asking the same questions, your sister wanting to wear the same clothes everyday — these scenarios are not problematic by default. So, really, the point is to take some time to think about whether putting on your detective hat is really worth your time and energy.
3. Understand that behaviors are a form of communication. Most of the time, if someone is doing something it's for a reason and often times when it comes to dementia it's because there is an unmet or overmet need. So, either something is missing or not right or there's something that's needed or wanted, but it's just too much and it becomes overwhelming or overstimulating.
4. The focus should always be on their reality and what they perceive is happening. There may be relevant elements in your reality that can give you insight into what is going on, but you really want to observe the situation through the lens of your partner.
In order to do this one of the big things that you'll have to be aware of are sensory changes in people living with dementia. This is such a crucial piece of the puzzle. There are seven senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch, proprioception, and vestibular sense. And all of these can influence how your partner is able to interact and make sense of their environment and world.
5. Respect the trial and errors of being a dementia detective. Being a detective is about finding and analyzing the pieces of a picture until you gather as complete of a picture as you can so that you can interpret and solve whatever may be the issue. However, it takes time, practice, and patience. So, be gentle with yourself and don't put too much pressure on yourself. Take a deep breath in through the nose, out through the mouth and keep at it. Eventually something will click OR you will find a better way to adapt to the situation.
If you feel like you are someone who has tried it all and need more guidance, I highly recommend investing our dementia care book "With Intent: A Practical Guide to Navigating Behaviors Along the Dementia Care Journey." To learn more, please click here!
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