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Handling Dementia Mood Swings

People with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia can often experience mood swings. These episodes can be trying on their caregivers as they try to help.

“The best thing that a caregiver can do to mitigate mood and behavior changes is to know and understand the individual person — including history, likes and dislikes, favorite foods, music and activities, what soothes them, what upsets them, what time of day they are at their best, and so on,” said Ruth Drew, Director of Family and Information Services for the Alzheimer’s Association. “When you know the person you can organize the day so that you anticipate and avert many problems before they occur. You recognize the signs of distress early and have several methods of dealing with them.”

Some of these methods include filling the day with pleasant experiences in which the person is comfortable and comforted by sights, sounds and tastes they enjoy. This needs to be combined with plenty of “down time” to avoid feelings of boredom and loneliness. Proper management of diet, activity and medications can minimize pain that might also cause mood swings.

“When someone with Alzheimer’s seems upset or withdrawn, first assess for pain or discomfort,” Drewsaid. “Pain in people with Alzheimer’s is under-recognized and under-treated, because they may not tell us in the way we expect. When pain is the problem, rely on your medical team to diagnose and treat the cause. Sometimes the things we interpret as mood swings or challenging behavior can simply be a person’s reaction to uncomfortable clothing, being too hot, too cold, hungry, thirsty, bored or fatigued. Often, if we try to look at the world through the other person’s eyes, we can figure out what’s going on and help to solve it."

Drew reminds caregivers that “all behavior is communication."

Know that sometimes there is only so much a caregiver can do and support for the caregiver and medical intervention for the person with dementia are necessary. The Alzheimer’s Association offers education programs and support groups in local areas, as well as online social media and eLearning sites atwww.alz.org, and a 24/7 Helpline at 800-272-3900.