Dealing with significant changes in our lives can be difficult for many of us. Depending on the type and magnitude of the change, it can be uncomfortable, disconcerting or highly stressful. Psychologists point out that it often takes time for us to “process” major changes, deal with them and get our lives back on track.
For our loved ones living with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, even small changes to their normal daily routine can seem significant. Because they are dealing with so much change in their lives already, seemingly minor things can be very challenging and provoke stress-related behaviors such as anxiety, agitation, anger and even aggressiveness – through no fault of their own.
Typical Sources of Change that Negatively Affect Your Loved One’s Behavior
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the Mayo Clinic and otherexpert sources on the subject,changing environments for loved ones with memory loss can increase their fear and their struggles with trying to make sense out of an increasingly confusing world. This stress is in turn expressed in anxiety and agitation-related behaviors.
The most common of the changes that can affect your loved one’s behavior are:
- Admission to a hospital
- Moving to a new residence
- Changes to their familiar environment
- Changes in caregiver arrangements
- The presence of houseguests
- Bathing or change of clothes
Don’t Try to Change their Behavior … Change Their Environment
These same experts remind us that because of the basic nature of progressive memory disorders, it is more productive to change your loved one’s surroundings than to try to modify their behavior. By making appropriate changes to their living space, you can frequently reduce or eliminate the “triggers” that create their increased stress levels as well as tocreate positive stimulation that can enhance their overall sense of well-being.
Tips for Coping with Environmental Changes That Cause Stress-Related Behaviors
Leading professional sources such as the Alzheimer’s Association article, “Treatments for Behavior” and the article, “How to Enhance the Physical Environment for a Person with Dementia” by Cassandra Gailis, address the environmental causes of behavioral change and offer useful tips for coping with the challenging behaviors that often result. Their recommendations include:
- Create a calm, relaxed environment – Remove stressors and clutter. Evaluate whether the living space is too loud or chaotic.
- Avoid stress-inducing triggers – Noise, glare and background distraction (such as having the television on) can act as triggers.
- Monitor their personal comfort – Make sure the room is at a comfortable temperature. Make sure their toileting needs are monitored and taken care of regularly and check for pain, hunger, thirst, fatigue, infections and skin irritations.
- Provide a security object – Provide a favorite blanket, a Bible or anything familiar and comforting that your loved one enjoys holding or being near.
- Provide opportunities for exercise – Go for a walk or garden together. According to the National Institute of Health, some studies have shown a reduction in cognitive decline with exercise.
- Encourage social engagement – Provide transportation and access to social activities that your loved one has always enjoyed.
- Utilize “holistic therapies” – Activities using music, art, pets and reminiscence (e.g. viewing old photo albums, movies, and videos of old TV programs such as I Love Lucy) have been shown to reduce stress and improve cognitive function and self-expression.
- Promote a sense of responsibility – Provide a plant or pet fish nearby for the individual to care for. This can help the patient’s mood and alleviate their boredom.
Always keep in mind that minimizing environmental changes is much more productive than attempting to change your loved one’s behavior. Try the tips above to reduce the added stress that changing environments can cause.
Also of note, research scientists have noted that specially-designed environmental features can actually reduce cognitive decline and promote personal comfort for those with memory impairments. Today, leading residential memory care assisted living communities such as Provident Village at Canton use this knowledge in what is called “evidence-based” or “purpose-built” building design.
Carmen Duren, Executive Director of Provident Village at Canton, says, “We combine environments that foster moments of joy, independence and wellness with luxurious, purpose-built residential living and truly compassionate, respectful care. For residents and families, that means peace of mind and an understanding that, with us, life is filled with vibrancy, humor, fun and joy.”
Live Vibrantly! at Provident Village at Canton
At Provident Village at Canton, we believe vibrant days ensure bright tomorrows, so we’ve created a community where seniors, quite simply, Live Vibrantly! Whether it’s in our Assisted Living Community or Memory Care Neighborhood, each day we celebrate the individuality and strengths of each resident.
At Provident Village, to Live Vibrantly! means that days are filled with joy, vitality, growth and security. It means residents are socially active and personally empowered, with access to the personalized care and support they need to live fully. It means residing in a community where intellectual, social, emotional, spiritual and physical care are seamlessly integrated into everyday life.
Our compassionate Care Partners dedicate each day to enriching the lives of our residents. They customize the level of attention and activities to each resident’s specific needs and abilities. Our living environments are warm and inviting, with comfortable furnishings, beautiful fixtures and natural elements that bring the outdoors inside.