Do you know a Person Living With Dementia (PLWD) who repeatedly asks the same question? Does your loved one obsess about leaving the house so that they can go home? Maybe you know of a grandmother who blames everyone in sight for stealing her items. Challenging behaviors are common among PLWD and care partners are burning out trying to address these problems.

In professional care settings where activities are offered, employees are trained to combat these “annoying” behaviors using a technique called redirection. Redirection is the art of directing a PLWD’s attention away from a frustrating situation and into a meaningful activity. It takes a lot of detective work to understand the PLWDs history, preferences, dislikes and triggers. The more you know, the more you’re able to help.

The first rule to redirection is to become a listener. Avoid arguing at all costs! Instead of reorienting the person to what is logically happening, go along with their story and enter their reality. This concept of going with the flow with outrageous stories will be difficult at first. The idea behind losing your sanity and throwing logic out the window will enable you to help your PLWD feel comforted and you will be seen as trustworthy. You will be surprised at the smallest details that surface after the 15th time the same story has been told. Look at this as conducting research on the individual. By listening to their story, you are helping them feel like they have a teammate and you learn where they are in their mind. This is key detective work so that you can meet them where they are rather than trying to bring them into your reality.

What to say to redirect. You’ll want to reflect everything the PLWD says and follow their physical actions. Literally repeat what the person has said and match their facial expressions, hand gestures, posture and tone of voice. This shows the PLWD that you understand their current emotion. For example, if your PLWD is upset and says “I want to go home!” you would mimic their gestures and repeat “You want to go home!” In the next few sentences you’ll try to change the subject by saying something like “You want to go home! Tell me about your home, where is it?” This will start a conversation and you’ll soon be able to redirect them by changing the subject completely.

How do you know what to redirect someone’s attention to? Think about what your person likes, what brings them joy and how can we provide that right now? Maybe your PLWD loves chocolate. Sweet treats like chocolate, ice cream and cookies are easy snacks that could be kept around the house. Fishing, crocheting, gardening and building activities could be modified to provide enjoyment. Coloring a picture of a fish, reading a crochet book, watering the garden and children’s tool sets are viable options as your PLWD goes through the various stages.

Tapping into your PLWD’s history and preferences is key! Remember to keep things simple and be creative. Sometimes laughing at your own silliness can diffuse the anxiety. Giving care for someone with dementia is a series of trials and errors; don’t get down on yourself when something doesn’t work!

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PAC Hui Hawaii is a caregiver training organization utilizing the Positive Approach™ to Care philosophy developed by Teepa Snow. To know more of the organization and current workshops and events, please visit us online.