"Dad accused me of stealing and I feel awful! I'd never take anything from him!"
"Why is Dad upset all the time?... he never was like that before?"
"What's going on with Mom? ...she doesn't want to go anywhere with me? "
You are not alone! Interactions like these are quite common between sons and daughters of a parent with dementia. Behaviour in general is described as a way we act or conduct ourselves especially with others. We all have behaviours and things that trigger us; with dementia it is no different.
A parent with dementia experiences actions, words and gestures that are a response to their personal, social and physical environment. Their behaviour is trying to tell us something important-- this behaviour is referred to as a responsive behaviour.
The person is not intentionally trying to behave poorly, they have damage to the brain caused by the dementia that changes their ability to understand the world. They see, hear and interpret things differently and have difficulty expressing their needs (7A's of dementia). Apathy, depression, anxiety, agitation, sundowning, repetitive actions, wandering are found to be the most frequent forms of psychological and behavioural symptoms.
Brenda Hounam, spokesperson and advocate of those living with dementia quotes: “…Triggers are so often discussed in our early stage support group sessions. They are the episodes where we have our buttons pushed and our emotions are triggered in a ‘knee jerk’ reaction. They are those things that cause us to become agitated and experience increased stress. Or, they are those situations that cause us to have MORE difficulty thinking and perceiving, when in the past we may not have been bothered or affected in the same way... Once you have become agitated, it is difficult to process your thoughts on what has caused you to become upset, but trusted family and friends can assist you with this." (Managing Triggers, By Us For Us Guide).
As an adult child you can practice tuning in to your parent's triggers and learn more about how they communicate with you through their behaviour. One method to consider is using the P.I.E.C.E.S framework. The following sample of questions may help to identify responsive behaviours and possible triggers.The acronym P.I.E.C.E.S. stands for: Physical. Intellectual. Emotional. Capabilities. Environment. Social.
Physical – Are Mom's basic needs met? Is she in discomfort or pain? What changes in her physical condition do you notice? (eating, energy level)
Intellectual – Has Dad experienced recent changes in his memory? Has he been showing impulsive behaviour (swearing, quick to anger)? Is he struggling with speech (word finding) or sequenced tasks (getting dressed, driving, preparing a meal)?
Emotional – Have you observed increased depression or anxiety in your parent? Does Dad seem lonely, is he isolating? Has he exhibited any new unusual behaviour (suspiciousness and blaming others)?
Capabilities – Can your Mom do more than you realize but do not allow her to? Does Dad even comprehend that he may need help?
Environment – Is there too much noise or too large of a crowd around your parent? Is the lighting poor, making it hard for him to get around? Is there enough or too much stimulation? Check yourself: What energy are you bringing to the situation? (exhaustion, resentment, frustration, anxiety). What are you doing or not doing that may contribute to their behaviour?
Social – What do I know about my parent's early years, adulthood or employment experiences? What insights do their culture, religion or set of values offer?
Yes! with practice you can meet such challenges one day at a time by being creative and patient. Understanding why a person behaves the way he or she does and identifying triggers, may help make your caregiving and time spent with your parent less stressful. Take away: All behaviour has meaning! ...What is your parent trying to tell you?