Wednesday, June 28, 2017

How to Gently Redirect Repetitive or Challenging Behaviors

by Emily Anderson

One of the most challenging facts of daily life for caregivers, especially those helping a loved one with dementia, can be dealing with repetitive questions or behaviors. Sometimes questions are grounded in reality, such as, "What time is my appointment again?" while other questions, like "When is mother getting home?" when mother has been deceased 30 years, are part of a person with dementia living in their long-ago memories. Some people with cognitive issues form repetitive behaviors, like pacing, rummaging in drawers, or fussing with clothing.

While you may have the patience to respond gently the first ten times someone asks a question, by repetition 112 you might feel ready to blow a gasket. For many people, it leads to an escalation of frustration, as you try to explain yet again and your loved one gets more and more confused. Next time, try this method of gentle redirection instead when your loved one demonstrates a behavior you find challenging:

1. Take a second to let your emotional reaction pass.
Feeling frustrated or irritated are normal reactions, but you’ll be more successful if you are able to be calm. In particular, you want to aim to be less insistent, less upset, and less direct. This helps your loved one sense that you are a friendly guide, rather than a challenging opponent.

2. Change your body language.
People with dementia have more difficulty processing words, so they often rely on other cues to figure out meaning. Instead of just reacting, remember to REACT:
Relax--loosen the muscles in your face, neck, and shoulders 
Eyes--make eye contact with your loved one, crouch down if you have to 
Affect--make your facial expression neutral or pleasant 
Contact--touch the person gently by holding their hand or putting a hand on their shoulder 
Tone--make your voice calm and cheerful
3. Ask some questions
Often people with dementia are trying to communicate a need, but aren't sure how to express themselves. Check for sources of discomfort, like pain, hunger, boredom, or needing to go the bathroom. Try to understand why they are behaving this way, even if it doesn’t make sense to you. Some repetitive behaviors arise from anxiety that the person isn't sure how else to express. Try to use mostly yes/no questions if your loved one has trouble finding the right words.

4. Empathize, don’t argue
Avoid using reason or logic to explain why the person should see it your way. Instead, focus on the emotion behind what they are trying to say, rather than the facts or the claims they are making. If your loved one claims, "A man was in here earlier and stole all my stuff!" rather than trying to correct her, take a guess at what she might be feeling. "That sounds scary and frustrating," might be a good response. Be reassuring and agreeable.

5. Use a bridge phrase
After you've tried to understand and respond empathically, your loved one might still repeat their behavior or question. Try to engage them in something related that you think might grab their attention. You can use phrases like, “That reminds me…”, “Oh, and also…”, or “You know what else…” to help change the subject.

6. Present something different and specific to attend to

Boredom fuels repetitive behaviors, so give your loved one something else to focus on. Pick something engaging, not passive, preferably something that involves the senses. You might ask them to help with a chore, look at some pictures, taste the dinner you are making, or turn on some music and do a silly dance. Don't get bogged down in explaining the new activity or why you want to do something different, just get it going and see if they catch on to the new activity.

This strategy doesn't work every time, often you need to repeat the steps several times to find something that works to help your loved one break out of their repetitive cycle. It is better, though, than constantly going through the same cycle of frustration yourself, which often leads to things like yelling at your loved one. Read more ideas on how to deal with repetitive behaviors at the Alzheimer's Association.

If you are a visual learner, and need to see this process in action before you are able to try it yourself, try watching these videos from Teepa Snow.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Longest Day Honors Those Affected by Alzheimer's Disease

by Emily Anderson

Being diagnosed with Alzheimer's or having a loved one who is diagnosed is the beginning of a long and winding road. Little by little, memory, cognition, and function drop away. Daily activities like getting washed up and dressed in the morning become a slow, detailed task the requires intense patience and steady guidance. People living with Alzheimer's and their caregivers often share that their nights and days drag, each day feeling so long, yet too short to get everything done.

Today is the official start of summer, and the longest daylight period of the year. In honor of those who are living with Alzheimer's and other dementias, the Alzheimer's Association celebrates today as the "Longest Day."

Here are three ways you can participate to honor the people in your life affected by Alzheimer's Disease:

  1. Share your personal experience or listen to another person's story. Too often, the experiences of dementia are hidden and forgotten, but in fact about a third of older adults have some type of dementia. People are embarrassed to share that their loved one is "losing their mind" or "going senile." This leaves people affected by the disease feeling alone, when in fact millions of people are going through a similar situation. Share your story to help end that stigma, and if you don't have a story to share, make yourself available to listen!
  2. Make time for someone in your life who has Alzheimer's or another dementia. Whether it is a family member, friend, coworker, or neighbor, chances are you know someone who is affected by Alzheimer's or other dementias. Visit or call a loved one living with the disease, bring a meal to a friend who is a caregiver, or take some time to remember people in your life who have died with dementia. 
  3. Do something for your own brain health.  Experts believe that at least half of all dementias are preventable through lifestyle changes. Do something good for your brain today and help end Alzheimer's disease and other dementias--starting with you!

As the sun sets around 9pm tonight, take a moment to consider all the people in your life who have another long day ahead tomorrow, dealing with the effects Alzheimer's and other dementias.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Give Feedback to the Department of Aging

by Emily Anderson

The Allegheny Area Agency on Aging (AAA) is taking feedback on their budget for the coming year. Have ideas, programs that you want to see, experiences you want to share? Does your area need an adult day center or better transportation? Let the Area Agency on Aging know!

Take a look at the annual budget plan here. Submit written testimony by emailing Molly Eggleston at or calling her at 412-350-1323. You can submit written feedback until Friday, June 16th at 4pm. Tell them what you like, what you have struggled with, and what you hope to see in the future!

Some of the programs that the the Department of Aging operates include:

  • Information & Assistance--Connecting people with aging services across the county via the SeniorLine. They aim to be helpful, kind, and knowledgeable about resources that can help in complex life situation.
  • Assessment--Helping people apply for Aging Waiver applications, nursing facility admissions, personal care home supplements, and LIFE Pittsburgh/Community LIFE programs. 
  • OPTIONS Care Management--Coordinating home services like home delivered meals, in-home aides, light housekeeping, and transportation. 
  • Senior Centers--Offering quality fitness, life skills education, health and wellness, arts and humanities, communal meals, and other enriching activities for older adults.
  • Nursing Home Transitions--Assisting nursing home residents back to the community to live independently.
  • Ombudsman--Advocacy assistance with concerns and complaints about senior care facilities or community care.
  • Older Adult Protective Services--Addressing issues of abuse and neglect in facilities and community settings
  • Family Caregiver Support Program--Supporting caregivers through financial assistance and evidence-based training. 

Interested in using one of these programs? Call the SeniorLine at 412-350-5460. Whether or not you have participated in the past, please contact the AAA to share your thoughts and experiences--they can only serve you if they know what you need and want!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Check Out the Classes & Events Page!

by Emily Anderson

Have you been enjoying our "Get Smart" series with updates on local classes and events? Good news! We've decided to create a permanent page to help you stay informed on what is happening when around Allegheny County. Instead of once a month updates, now you can simply click the "Classes & Events" tab at the top of the page to see our most current list.

Check it out now by clicking the "Classes & Events" tab above!

Do you know about a class or event that isn't shown on the page? Let us know by emailing Emily at!