When people feel trapped and terrified, they get agitated, anxious, and sometimes aggressive. It’s normal behaviour for human beings to lash out when they feel threatened, whether they have dementia or not.
Unfortunately, many people who care for people living with dementia (PLWD), including family, friends, healthcare personnel and caregivers, blame this normal behaviour on the disease rather than finding and addressing the real underlying causes.
More often than not, something in the environment or in the way the person with dementia is being treated or approached prompts the aggressive behaviour, which is in fact a perfectly normal response to something the PLWD may perceive as a threat of some kind.
In the video below, dementia care pioneer Teepa Snow tells the story of de-escalating a situation in which an 89-year-old woman with dementia became violent when care facility staff and EMS personnel tried to get her onto a gurney.
I have personally gone through similar events. At the time, I had no idea what to do. I have since seen others in versions of the same scenario; it’s clear they either don’t know what to do or if they do know what to do they aren’t doing it.
Instead of blaming the PWLD and the disease and then “drugging them up” as Snow says in the video, we need to learn how to:
1) prevent crises from happening in the first place
2) de-escalate if and when they occur despite our best efforts
Here are 10 techniques anybody can use to calm a crisis in which a PLWD becomes distressed and/or aggressive (see disclaimer):
- Remove the threat
- Create space
- Get on her/his side
- Get at or below eye level
- Use Hand Under Hand™
- Breathe in sync
- Calm your voice
- Relax your body
- Attend to her/his needs
- Be willing to go where he/she is
Learn how to put the tips into practice by watching this five-minute video with Teepa Snow: