Behavior problems among the elderly are becoming common as families become nuclear and there is less space for everyone in the home. In this scenario, the elderly find it difficult to adjust to the circumstances, especially as they change faster than what they can cope with. This causes them to behave in ways which can be very disturbing to others. However it is possible to encourage them to turn around and lead healthier, happier and more fruitful lives.
Here are 5 steps you can implement to encourage them to adapt to the circumstances and bring about a change in their behavior as well.
How to deal with these problems
It’s not easy to deal with adverse behavior problems in the elderly when they are not cooperative. Still, with perseverance, care and patience the situation can be brought to near normal. Here’s how to do it.
1. Identify what sets off the troublesome behavior in the old people
Elders may be happy and cheerful one moment and the next moment they may become hostile or even aggressive. In most of these situations, something happens that triggers such a behavior in them. Find out what that is and try to avoid it. It can be something which someone said to them or about them. Or it can be an action someone did which the elders did not like, or handling something in a certain manner which the elders did not approve of. These are small things and can only be noticed over a period of time by observing the surroundings. But these should not be ignored. It’s always better to ask them what sets them off. Whether they respond positively or negatively does not matter. What is important is that you be patient with them and they will certainly open up. That can be a first step towards recovering the situation.
You need to speak calmly and gently. If they resent being touched at that moment then don’t. Soften your approach towards them by walking gently. If the elderly person will calm down when you walk away or if they are left alone for a while, then do it. Give them some time to regain their composure. Once they have calmed down, try to move them to some place where they will feel comfortable or to a place they like. Under no circumstance should you confront them.
2. Learn how to be helpful and friendly to them
Most people today are short on patience and temper. This results in frequent flare ups both outside and inside homes. Here are some steps that you can do to restore normalcy when dealing with bad behavior in the elderly:
* If they frequently complain about you, then don’t take it personally. Such behavior is a sign of frustration, loss of abilities, fear, loss of compassion, breakdown of communication, a manifestation of a disease, or they are just frustrated.
* Don’t argue if the situation worsens by doing so. If it’s a matter of right and wrong then judge honestly. If they were wrong about something, then tell them so very softly and if you were wrong then admit your mistake without reservation. But don’t argue about it even if they complain about you to strangers. Maintain composure and wait for them to calm down. But do not chide them for their behavior.
* If something bothers them, then try to get them in a subject that interests them. This will help them cool down. But if they are being bothered by some problem, then try to get that solved as soon as possible. At other times simply distract them so that they get time to relax and gain control over themselves.
* Try to meet their needs without any bias or reservation. Old people may have different types of emotional and physical needs. Find out what these are and then do your best to fulfill them. If you cannot, then its best to discuss this with them in a frank manner. But always be patient.
* Learn to accept them as they are, with all their frailties, misgivings and problems. This will help you and them come to equal terms quickly.
* Adopt calm and soothing approach towards them even if they remain hostile. This is of utmost importance when dealing with the elderly. Surprisingly you may find that the way you deal with children often work very efficiently on elders too. But when doing this, always remember that they have had more experience than you. It’s just that when their bodies fail, they become more dependent on you.
* Find out what they fear most. If they resent social interactions, then coax them to interact with more people of their age. Sometimes sharing experiences can help them learn to manage things better. Or better, both of you may realize something or find out something that you may not have considered so far.
* Implement steps to reduce avoidable arguments in the house or when interacting with each other. Such steps can slowly change things around a bit.
3. Get them diagnosed by a geriatric specialist
Old age brings with it a host of problems. These can be both physical and psychological. Learn more about these so that you understand what the elderly are going through. Try to solve the physical problems first before thinking about the psychiatric problems.
3.1 Physical problems that lead to problem behavior include –
* Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) – This can cause the patient to become irritable and difficult to deal with. Behavioral pattern changes are common during UTI.
* Thyroid Problems – Old people with a thyroid condition show symptoms resembling depression. Hence get them checked out and start medication as soon as possible.
* Alzheimer’s Disease – This disease causes unpredictable mood swings, short term memory loss, confusion, disorientation, language difficulties, short attention span, etc.
* Dementia – Loss of short term memory is the classical symptom. This can be accompanied by mood swings, a complete change in personality, losing things easily, forgetting names of people they have known for years, uncharacteristic behavior, inability to make complete sentences as they forget words, inability to do simple everyday tasks, getting lost in the building, unable to drive, or even complete simple household chores. They seem confused or imagine things that have never happened, have difficulty in judgment and may resort to anger or rage. These symptoms will only get worse as the disease progresses.
* A physical injury – Injuries at old age can be debilitating and can scare the elders so much that they start to fear everything.
Much of these can be treated to some extent. It is necessary to seek an early diagnosis before the problem becomes unmanageable.
3.2 Psychological problems that lead to problem behavior include –
* A Cataclysmic Event – Like the death of the spouse, this means the loss of emotional support and a comforting hand. This can immediately push the elders into depression which then becomes very difficult to treat. This can leave the person disoriented, or in a state of delirium or leave him/her emotionally scarred. This situation can only be dealt with by compassion, love, affection and a little bit of encouragement.
* An Irritating Environment – There can be some factor or incident which can be repeatedly irritating to the person. Identify the source and try to remove the thing. If that is not possible then try to coax the elderly person to move away from the place.
4. Use therapies wherever and whenever you can
You must encourage the elderly to undergo therapies with or without the use of medications. There are various types of therapies that are used to help the elderly. Some of these are – animal or pet therapy, group therapy, exercises, meditation, motivational speeches, behavior therapy, music therapy and sometimes tours. Such therapies can have a calming effect and will be very absorbing. They will also stimulate the elderly into making things better by acting on their own. These therapies can be done with or without the supervision of a doctor.
5. When all else fails use medication
When all other means fail to bring about a change in the behavior then medication can be used. A doctor can prescribe an anti depressant or a sedative to help calm down the elderly person. Caution is required here as some doctors may use a strong dose of medicine to keep the person under a daze. This is not always necessary. Any such medication should be buttressed by your emotional support and care. One cannot completely replace the other here so you need to mix them both judiciously.
Whatever method you adopt, you should provide a feeling of comfort and compassion. A feeling that they are not alone and are looked after well will encourage the elderly to be more receptive and better behaved.