Recently at one of my support groups I asked if there were any challenging situations the caregivers were dealing with. Suddenly a woman burst into tears.
“I don’t know how to say this.” She cried. “But my wonderful loving uncle who has been so kind to me his entire life, has recently been making sexual advances towards me. I am just so embarrassed and I don’t want to say anything to my aunt because I know it will upset her greatly.”
I explained that the ability for her uncle to perceive, think and understand can be affected by his dementia. He may behave in a way that other people find embarrassing because of his failing memory and general confusion. And in some cases, this may be due to specific damage to the brain. People with dementia may gradually lose sight of what things are and are not appropriate to do in public. They may suddenly start using curse words and obscenities when they have never done this at all in their life before. Some people with dementia may undress in public, having forgotten when and where it is appropriate to remove their clothes.
First of all, try to react calmly. Caregivers should be respectful but firm with love ones if inappropriate behavior presents problems or is disturbing. Try to distract their attention when this behavior occurs, and explain to people later that the behavior is due to dementia . And what works today, may not work tomorrow. The many factors that influence troubling behaviors and the natural progression of the disease can change daily.
Secondly, it may be helpful to keep a diary to see if you can find a pattern for their behavior. For example, whether it is more likely to occur in certain situations, with the same people present or at certain times of the day or night. By finding a pattern, you may be able to easily redirect them to another activity.
And please remember that you are not alone – there are many others caring for someone with dementia. The behaviors are symptoms of dementia and are not meant to upset you. Find a support group and expect that, like the loved one you’re caring for, you will have good days and bad days.