How Do You Calm Down Someone with Dementia? 4 Expert Tips [Video]

Use special techniques to calm difficult situations

When someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia is distressed or upset, the first thing to do is help them calm down. Reducing their agitation will allow you to figure out what’s wrong or help solve the problem.

In these situations, whatever threat or concern they’re experiencing is very real to them, so asking them to calm down or explaining why they don’t need to be worried won’t work.

What’s usually more effective is using a few simple techniques that rely on the body’s natural responses to bring calm. We found an excellent free video where expert dementia educator Teepa Snow demonstrates these helpful techniques.

Here, we highlight Teepa’s 4 key actions to take when working to calm down someone with dementia. After you’ve used these techniques to de-escalate the situation, you can move on to problem-solving.




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4 key actions to calm down someone with dementia

1. At first, mimic their distress and repeat what they’re saying (43 sec in video)
Seeming to be as distressed as they are shows that you understand and accept their feelings. You’re on their side.

You could also use this technique to pick up clues to how they’re feeling or what’s bothering them. That will help you when you’re ready to move on to problem-solving. Teepa briefly does this at 56 seconds in the video.

 

2. Use the hand in the hand over hand method (45 sec in video)
When someone is upset, they may already be holding their hands out to you. If that’s the case, it’s the perfect opportunity to take their hand in a natural manner like Teepa does at 45 seconds in the video.

If they don’t offer their hand, try offering yours. When someone is in distress, they’re more likely to welcome this comforting gesture from someone who is on their side.

Avoid pulling or grabbing their hand if they don’t offer or willingly accept, that may feel like an attack to someone who is already distressed.

When holding their hand, try to stand on their dominant side (their writing side). This will make them more comfortable and help them relax – see the example at 4 min 43 sec in video.

Note: Teepa demonstrates the hand over hand method in detail at 1 min 42 sec in the video.

 

3. Take exaggerated deep breaths, putting the emphasis on breathing out (1 min 17 sec in video)
Transition from copying their distress to taking slow deep breaths. Put a big emphasis on blowing the breath out.

That helps to relax their ribcage so they’ll be able to take in more oxygen.

 

4. Pump into their palm in a heartbeat-like rhythm – squeezing and releasing with your hand (1 min 42 sec in video)
Continue the deep breathing while you start to gently pump (apply pressure into) their palm.

For extra comfort, keep your forearm along their forearm while you pump their palm. (2 min 38 seconds in video).

Be sure to watch their reaction to make sure the palm pump is providing comfort and isn’t causing pain or discomfort. If your older adult is frail or has arthritis in their hands, be gentle and avoid any known tender spots.

 

Next Step  See a dementia expert demonstrate how to calm down someone with dementia (4 minutes)

 

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By DailyCaring Editorial Team
Image: Spotlight Senior Services

 

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