Caregivers of aging family members often must deal with increasingly unusual, unruly, and embarrassing behavior from an aging family member or care recipient. These behaviors can range from the mild, like refusing to bathe, to personality changes, temper tantrums, and hallucinations.
Sometimes, the acting out is an extension of the way the person has always acted. Sometimes though, the behaviors indicate a serious new health issue like depression, a urinary tract infection (UTI), or dementia.
Listed below are some of the difficult behaviors often cited by geriatric care managers in Nevada, and how best to address them.
Rage, Anger and Yelling
Longstanding personality traits in the elderly can manifest in unpleasant ways as we age. An irritable person may frequently become enraged, whereas an impatient person often becomes demanding and more and more difficult to please.
The opposite can also be true.
Whatever the case, there are always layers of behavior and discomfort involved. The primary caregiver is usually the main target of both pleasant and unpleasant behaviors.
What to Do?
- Try identifying the root cause of the angeras the aging process is not easy for most seniors and can spark resentment in people living with chronic pain or struggling with other issues. Many people see getting older as constant loss. It can mean the loss of dignity, friends, mobility, and overall independence. They may experience memory issues or live with chronic pain. These are just a few things that many elderly adults face.
- Focus on positive behaviors. It is always best, though often difficult, not to take any behavior personally, especially in those with Alzheimer’s disease or some form of dementia.
- Set boundaries by responding to positive behaviorand ignore, to the extent possible, bad behaviors.
- Use non-verbal cuesand body positioning to provide assurance and establish yourself in a non-threatening way. You want to send the message that you are an advocate, not an adversary.
- Educate yourself. There are many experts who can help you identify the best ways to handle your specific situation. An Aging Life Care Professional can provide information on the factors affecting your loved one and coaching on behavior techniques.
Swearing, Offensive Language, and Inappropriate Comments
Using profanities and saying inappropriate things to visitors, aides, family members, and others is plain embarrassing when in public, and hurtful when it happens in private.
What to Do?
- If the behavior is out of character, it may signal the manifestation of Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia. If it is out of character but also happens suddenly, it could be a urinary tract infection (UTI). UTIs present differently in different seniors. Often, the symptoms can include acute agitation, offensive behavior, or other changes in behavior triggered by discomfort and pain.
- If none of the above is present and the person is simply being rude and offensive, then setfirm ground rulesby making it clear that you will simply not take them into public places if they are going to act like that.
- Another technique is distraction. Change the subjectwith a new activity or by prompting a memory they can reminisce about. Most elders love to reminisce. Whatever you do, do not take the behavior personally. If all else fails, back off until the storm passes.
Refusing to Shower – Resisting Help
Problems with personal hygiene like showering, changing clothes, and brushing teeth are more common in the elderly than most people realize. These behaviors are often linked to a combination of depression and control. Older people sometimes feel that they have less and less control over their lives and they begin to take stands on issues that they can control, and resist attempts to help them.
Another factor is that our senses dull as we age. An elderly person may not realize that they have body odor or are wearing soiled clothes, or they may simply think that they showered that day when it has really been several days since they did so.
What to Do?
- The first thing is to determine the cause. Why have they stopped bathing and changing their clothes? Consider the following possibilities:
- A matter of modesty?
- Fear of slipping and falling?
- A need to control an aspect of their life?
Probably, their behavior is a combination of things.
- Depressioncan be helped greatly by medication and therapy. If modesty is involved, perhaps a professional elder caregiver can provide assistance if the elderly adult is living with family members, or vice versa, if they are in a facility. If fear of slipping and fallingis part of the equation, discuss various options like shower chairs, grab bars, and removable shower heads.
- Make the elderly person part of the process. Give them control by offering choices about when to shower and what to wear.
- Ask questionsand keep up a dialogue during the showering process to let them know what you are doing as you go.
- Don’t nag!It doesn’t work well for most people and certainly not for most elderly people.
- Show empathy.Whatever else is going on, they have lived long lives and have seen much over the years. Including them in decisions that can and should be theirs demonstrates the respect they deserve. It will also make them more amenable to suggestions.
Hoarding behaviors can signal the onset of Alzheimer’s or dementia. If the elderly person is already anxious about aging and the possibility of outliving their resources, they may collect things and save money because they are overwhelmed by what they are facing.
Seniors may also hold onto things because they fear the loss of their memories and their past. These people hoard tangible evidence of their journey through life.
What to Do?
- Whatever the reason for the hoarding, focus attention on safety. Ensure that hoarding is not creating fire hazards or other unsafe, unsanitary conditions.
- Encourage the building of memory boxesas a way of organizing special things.
- If the behavior is extreme, help from adult protective services may be required, along with medication and counseling. An Aging Life Care Professional may be able to offer solutions to avoid trauma and smooth the transition to a much-needed intervention.
These are just some of the behaviors that elder care managers of aging adults may experience. Others include confusing night and day, wanting constant attention, continuous pacing, overspending or extreme frugality, and paranoia and confusion.
Whatever an aging loved one is experiencing, get them involved in activities that challenge and interest them as well as being consistent with their abilities.
Book clubs, volunteering to read to children, art classes, and walking clubs can all help to keep an elderly person engaged and active. Having other people to interact with helps aging adults be less dependent on you and less lonely.
If your loved one is housebound, rotate family members and friends with home companions to keep your aging relative engaged and vital. Also remember that if you need practical help or advice, friendly, professional geriatric care assistance in Nevada is only a phone call or email away.