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Responding to Catastrophic Reactions

In caring for a loved one with dementia, an in home caregiver should be prepared for possible catastrophic reactions.

A catastrophic reaction is an excessive reaction to something that may seem inconsequential to the in home caregiver. The cause of a catastrophic reaction can be a number of things—the person with dementia simply may not be feeling well or might be feeling rushed and confused. Sometimes the catastrophic reaction may be the result of many small things throughout the day, such as series of minor moments of confusion, correction, or anger that explode late in the day.

Although it might feel natural to defend one’s action or even argue, the best thing for the in home caregiver to do in response to a catastrophic reaction is stay calm and be reassuring. Rather than point out the facts of the matter, simply tell your loved one that you are listening and validate their feelings.

Tips for avoiding a catastrophic reaction include:


  1. Sticking to a predictable daily routine. Changes can make the person with dementia feel overwhelmed.

  2. Avoiding rushed situations. When you are rushing, there is anxiety and this can lead to a catastrophic reaction as the person tries to figure out their next step.

  3. Cut back on television viewing. The fast-paced visual images and loud sounds can overwhelm someone with dementia.

  4. Remain calm and comforting and never raise your voice or argue. You are the role model for your loved one.

  5. Never scold or make the person feel bad for their actions. Managing your own behavior can change the outcome of an interaction.