senior lady painting with friend

Swift mood changes are hallmark of dementia, and can be challenging for family caregivers to navigate. One moment you are enjoying a nice activity together, when seemingly out of thin air, the senior’s demeanor shifts. For family caregivers, reducing dementia agitation and mood swings often involves cautiously navigating situations not fully understood.

Although it’s beneficial to find out the main cause behind strong emotions such as agitation, fear, and anxiety, unfortunately, it’s not always achievable. There may be a known trigger, such as loud noises or exhaustion, that can easily be remedied ; but there could be more arbitrary sources, such as the older adult remembering an unsettling memory from a long time ago that they’re unable to talk about. To help in reducing dementia agitation, sensory activities can help.

What Do I Do Now?

After it’s been established that the senior isn’t in pain or physical distress, there are two essential steps to take:

  • Journaling: Keep a notebook close at hand while caring for a senior loved one. Record the date, time, and any other information pertaining to an incident of agitation. For example, note if the older adult had just woken up, had just finished having dinner, had not used the bathroom for a few hours, was watching the news on TV, etc. The time of day is especially important to note, as people with dementia usually experience more anxiety in the late afternoon and evening. The objective with journaling is to look for commonalities and patterns that can help you prevent future events.
  • Diversion/Redirection: After validating the feelings the older adult is having, it is often beneficial to move into a different area of the home (or even go outside if the weather is nice enough) and shift the focus to something enjoyable. If it’s been a while since breakfast, a mid-morning snack on the front porch might help. If the senior is pacing or wandering, try heading out for a walk around the block or even the park. Oftentimes, listening to favorite music can provide a sense of calm. Try a variety of techniques and document the outcomes in your journal for future reference.

Engaging the Senses

Sensory exercises can help with reducing dementia agitation and preempt or provide distraction from challenging mood swings. Try creating and implementing some of these ideas from our experts in Alzheimer’s home care services:

  • Fragrance Cards: Cut pieces of cardboard and attach perfumed objects in small zip-locked plastic baggies to one end. Use a variety of scents that arouse memories or a feeling of calm: cinnamon, vanilla, peppermint, pine needles, chocolate, coffee, suntan lotion, etc. Use your imagination and discuss each scent while enjoying them together.
  • Aquarium Bag: Fill a sizable zip-sealed plastic bag with water beads and a variety of small plastic aquatic animals, plants, etc. Employ this idea as a jumping-off point to other sensory bags with different themes in line with the senior’s unique interests.
  • Homemade Paint: Prepare a batch of this safe, nontoxic paint to keep easily accessible, which can be used for either finger painting or brush painting. Blend together ½ c cornstarch and 2¾ c cold water in a pan. Cook and stir over medium heat until it boils. Stir 1 envelope of unflavored gelatin into ½ c of cold water and add to the cornstarch and water. Allow the mixture to cool, and then separate into different containers, adding different colors of food coloring to each.

Want More Ideas?

At Hearts at Home In-Home Care, our Alzheimer’s home care services include creative ideas such as these, in addition to effectively managing even the most challenging effects of the disease. Our objective is always to make life the best it can be for the people we serve, every day. Call us at 913-440-4209 for more information about our top-rated home care services in Kansas City and neighboring communities.