Dear Dementia Solutions: “I recently received alarming news—while sitting in the TV room at the care centre where my mum lives. I learned she was punched in the arm by another resident. Though the resident is known to often be in a bad mood, it was still an unexpected event and it’s left me wondering what I can do to prevent a similar incident from reoccurring. The care centre is ‘home’ to my mum, and I don’t want to remove her from it, but I also want her to be safe. What should I do?”
Dear Protective Daughter:
When we think of ‘home’, we often think of comfort, contentment and feeling settled, but just as important is a sense of safety that every living environment should offer. It’s wonderful that your mum is happy at the care centre, but as you’ve mentioned, it’s important to assess whether adjustments can be made to better ensure her safety.
Approach the situation as a detective would, magnifying glass in hand, and start by asking questions. There’s always a reason underlying challenging behaviors displayed by those with dementia, and understanding these reasons is what leads to effective solutions. Ask the staff for more details about the incident and also inquire about what they think happened. It’s important to determine Why this act of physical aggression occurred, but also whether it’s part of a behavioral pattern that may be at risk of repeating itself. If so, then a plan should be looked into now before it happens again. Questions you could ask to find out why this occurred could be: Was the distressed resident in physical pain or discomfort? Were there loud noises in the TV room that may have triggered him/her? Did your mum say or do anything that may have unintentionally upset him/her? Is there a need for more supervision in certain communal areas, such as the TV room, or in general?
Asking questions is important, but taking action is equally vital. Once you have discovered the possible reason why this situation took place, it’s time to get together with the staff to come up with creative ideas to help prevent the situation from happening again. For example, if it happened because the person was upset at your mom for something she said and your mom isn’t able to understand the importance of not saying things to upset the person, then maybe ask the staff to do what they can to keep your mum separated from the other resident, as much as possible. I have seen some families change their visiting time during that time of day or hire a private companion to be with their loved one at certain times of the day when they are more worried about safety and the lack of staff’s ability to be on watch. Also, never underestimate your own power as an advocate for your mum. Lobbying your government on issues of staff shortages at care centers and for more supervision of residents who display aggressive behaviour can lead to much needed changes.
Please know that you are already playing a very valuable role in caring for your mum by being proactive in reaching out for help. By taking that first step, asking questions, and taking action, you will be helping create a safer home for your mum and greater peace of mind for yourself.
Do you have a specific question relating to dementia that you need answered? Please submit your questions by email to: [email protected]
Karen Tyrell CDP, CPCA, is a Dementia Consultant, Educator & Author, and Founder of Personalized Dementia Solutions Inc. (www.dementiasolutions.ca). Karen offers her expertise on dementia care through speaking engagements, workshops and by working one-on-one with families and caregivers to provide emotional support and practical solutions.
The contents of this column are provided for information purposes only. They are not intended to replace clinical diagnosis or medical advice from a health professional. For any health related issue, always seek medical advice first from a trained medical professional.
Posted on March 9, 2017.