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Dementia Emotions

Seniors entering dementia care can experience surprising emotions. Be ready. A quick guide for caregivers.

Certain events in our lives can pack an emotional, sometimes traumatic wallop.

The death of a spouse ranks as the event with the most impact, according to “Todd” a well-known stress scale. The list also includes things like suffering a serious injury, being fired from a job, going prison…even marriage and divorce.

Entering a senior community when one is showing signs of dementia isn’t found in the top 10 events, but it can still have a huge impact – and caregivers should be aware of the emotional fallout.

A big life change can trigger personality changes.

A loved one may have been living with their spouse, with family, or in an independent apartment for years. Now, suddenly, it’s all changing:

  • They’re leaving a comfortable, familiar place, probably forever.
  • They’re giving up their treasured independence.
  • They don’t know anyone at their new home.

Caregivers should keep all this in mind as they help their loved one settle in.

It takes time to adjust and build trust.

Specialists agree that residents who are new to dementia care often feel fear: they don’t know anyone there, nor what to expect. This can trigger nervousness, stress, anxiety and depression.

New dementia patients are losing a good deal of their independence, privacy and personal space. So the more quickly they get to know and trust the community’s staffers, the better.

These are the people who’ll help them meet their needs every day – in the bathroom, getting up and going to bed, and helping them go safely from one place to another.

All this takes some getting used to.

Plus, seeing their visiting families might spark memories of childhood, family events and other good times. This can often bring on sadness and a longing for home.”

What can families expect?

Most new dementia care residents just want to be with their loved ones, and miss them a lot when they go away.

Caregivers and families of memory residents can often experience denial, thinking “There’s no way my mom could ever be like this.”

Family members could also feel guilty as they “leave”their loved one. It can be very difficult for them to relinquish care to someone else.

Frustration, anger and shame.

Dementia can include frustration with their memory loss, anger, shame, and even embarrassment when they can’t come up with the words they want to use.

It’s common for seniors to lash out or act out in ways they normally wouldn’t. Families and caregivers should not react as if it’s “wrong,” or try to correct them.

Instead, try to find the joy in little things. Celebrate with them if they had a good night’s sleep or a good meal. It doesn’t have to be a big accomplishment. Even just the touch of a hand or a familiar voice can make them happy.