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Understanding Dementia Impulse Control Issues

There are many changes a person diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia can go through. Common effects include memory loss, aggression, anxiety, and difficulties in communicating. The condition also affects impulse control. If your loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, it’s worth understanding this issue and knowing how to keep yourself and your loved one safe.

How does dementia cause impulse control issues?

As dementia progresses, your loved one will have less control over their emotions and behaviour. This can cause a range of problems, such as lashing out, fear, panic, anxiety, and aggression. Typically, this results from damage to the brain’s frontal area and is a common symptom within most dementia types.

It’s important to understand that impulse control issues aren’t just about aggression and lashing out. The problems can also affect other aspects of your loved one’s life, such as failure to control impulses to smoke, drink alcohol, or eat in moderation. Some might be aware and upset at their behaviour, while others may never be aware of their changes in habits or demeanour.

What treatments are available for impulse control issues?

Impulse control issues are part of behavioural changes that happen as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia progresses. These changes can be triggered by a range of things, such as a sudden shift in their routine, such as visiting somewhere new or moving house altogether.

If you’re noticing impulse control issues in your loved one, talk to their doctor about arranging a complete medical evaluation. It could be possible that their dementia medication is causing behavioural changes as a side effect. The doctor may also be able to detect if other health issues are present that can prompt a shift in behaviour.

In many cases, a change in medication might solve impulse control issues, so be sure to get your relative to the doctor as soon as possible for an examination and recommendations.

How to react to impulse control issues

First, it’s essential to understand that the person you love is still there. Their behaviour is being changed by their condition, not by anything you’re doing. It’s best to stay calm and avoid direct confrontation, which may only make matters worse.

When you’re faced with sudden upset, confusion, or aggression, here are some steps you can take to help de-escalate the situation:

  • Identify a trigger: Is there something that caused them to lash out or act up? Avoiding those triggers is key to minimizing future episodes.
  • Check to see if they’re in pain: Pain or discomfort can cause behavioural changes in people with dementia.
  • Validate their feelings: Respect the person’s feelings and beliefs by stepping into their shoes to understand the needs they are trying to express, and direct the conversation toward their emotions rather than facts.
  • Provide warm, loving reassurance: Older people with dementia can grow frustrated or lonely due to their condition. Gently-spoken words of comfort can be soothing. A loving embrace may help if it’s safe to do so.
  • Try redirection: The redirection technique refocuses the confused or upset person’s attention on something more pleasurable, helping to calm them.
  • Play their favourite music: Playing their favourite music at a comfortable volume can be calming and soothing for someone experiencing distress.

If a situation escalates beyond your ability to control, or you feel your or your loved one’s safety is in danger, call for assistance immediately. Don’t try to handle the situation on your own.

How can you cope with the effects of impulse control?

As a caregiver, your loved one’s lack of impulse control can be distressing. However, there are ways you can cope by helping minimize the stress it can cause you and others.

For example, if your loved one is starting to be loud or misbehaving in public, you could opt to visit places during off-peak hours where there might be fewer people. Remember always to remain calm and in control of situations. Your loved one needs your support more than ever, so having a good sense of humour will help you overcome awkward moments.

If you feel overwhelmed, consider taking further training to learn more about handling your loved one’s ever-changing condition. There are plenty of learning resources online at the Alzheimer’s Societies of Toronto and Ontario websites. Also, find support groups that can help you navigate this part of your loved one’s dementia journey. Discussing your difficulties, getting advice, and receiving moral support for difficult situations from others who have been there will do wonders for getting through everyday care challenges.

Above all, don’t neglect your own mental and physical health. Spend time with family and friends, participate in activities you enjoy, eat well, and get plenty of rest. The better you practice self-care, the better you’ll be able to provide care to your loved one.

Find support and report progress

Taking care of a loved one with dementia can be distressing, primarily when they act differently from how they used to be. It can be easy to become overwhelmed by taking care of loved ones with dementia, and seeing behavioural changes can be distressing.

To ensure both you and your loved one stay safe, maintain a continuous dialogue with health professionals. They’ll be able to give you practical advice on dealing with issues today and a rough timeline for what to expect down the road.

Quality in-home Alzheimer’s disease and dementia care in Etobicoke, Mississauga, and Brampton

Although you’ll likely want to keep caring for your loved one on your own for as long as possible, there will come a time when they need permanent professional care. The truth is that providing them with full-time care is often better than struggling to handle the situation alone at home.

When that time comes, give CareHop a call. Our team specializes in providing respectful, empathetic in-home Alzheimer’s disease and dementia care and services such as homemaking and meal preparation, personal care, activities, and casual companionship that will help your loved one live independently and bring joy and sunshine into their home every day.

Our team would love to discuss how our approach to quality Alzheimer’s disease and dementia care can positively impact your family. Get in touch with us today for a free, no-obligation discussion to discover how we can help you.

About the Author

Michael Lu is the founder of CareHop. He started the business inspired by his Grandmother to look at ageing as a happy experience to bring sunshine into the homes of others.

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