Researchers have been curious about emotions experienced by persons with dementia. How does a person with dementia feel? These emotions can range from disbelief, anger, depression, and all the way up to hallucinations depending on the type and stage of dementia. Family members can help their loved ones to cope with these emotions to live meaningful lives.
A diagnosis of dementia can have a negative impact on the well-being of the patient.
Persons with dementia often experience confusion, anxiety, depression, and apathy.
Although these feelings can be isolating, family members can help their loved ones to maintain their social relationships.
In the early stages of dementia, patients often report mixed emotions. Receiving a diagnosis of dementia can be devastating for some, while it can bring a sense of relief for some. For some patients, experiencing shock, denial, or anger is common, while for others seizing the moment takes priority.
The mind of a person with dementia
As the underlying disease advances, your loved one with dementia may demonstrate less control over their emotions. These emotions or their expression (symptoms) determine the course of treatment. For example, aggression may need immediate interventions such as hospitalization, whereas feeling slightly depressed can be managed at home with treatment.
Depending on the type of their dementia, your loved one will experience different emotions. For instance, in the early stages of dementia, your loved one with probable Alzheimer’s disease may show signs of being depressed or confused.
Additionally, they may care less about their appearance or social relationships (apathy), and experience sleep disorders. In the later stages of the disease, your loved one may become agitated or develop delusions/hallucinations. If your loved one has received a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, then hallucinations occur much earlier in the course of the disease. A person with Parkinson’s disease often has anxiety, and depression, and sleeps poorly. These emotional changes are also observed in patients with Lewy body dementia.
Irrespective of the type of dementia, your loved one with dementia may begin to care less (apathy) about all aspects of life. Although persons with dementia commonly report confusion, depression, or apathy, they also have good days when they feel happy and calm. Keeping a diary of activities done during these positive days helps when negative emotions surface. For instance, some persons with dementia feel distracted and confused.
Does one know they are confused?
Persons with dementia are usually aware of changes in their ability to remember. These cognitive changes lead to confusion and sometimes persons with dementia may lose track of conversations. For instance, not being able to remember details about a TV show once they start talking about it.
This confusion often results in decreased social interactions. Your loved one with dementia may no longer show the initiative to organize family dinners or other social activities. They make excuses to avoid meeting people. They struggle with conversations during social gatherings and become embarrassed or irritated with friends and family.
Some patients with dementia worry that people are pitying them or looking at them differently. As the disease advances, some persons may get less aware of their confusion and get upset with family members for a variety of reasons e.g., moving around items such as keys, furniture, etc.
Sometimes your loved one with dementia may not recognize their adult children and ask for their parents who may have passed away a long time ago. This suggests that your loved one with dementia is not aware of their confusion.
Ways to help a person with dementia
A strong relationship between family members and loved ones with dementia helps in coping with these memory changes. Your loved one with dementia may talk about a world that is unknown to you e.g., when they were a child, or when they worked before getting married to you. Approaching this situation with curiosity, positivity, and kindness usually helps in coping for both patients and their families.
When family members had awareness about social interactions and feelings around them, they helped their loved one with dementia navigate those changes. For instance, persons with dementia are able to participate in conversations that describe the past. Persons with dementia open up or light up as they enjoy topics related to the older times. But sometimes their peers have passed away or moved away and talking to newer people is difficult.
Most family members help their loved ones by focusing on skills they have e.g., even if a person has lost their ability to recognize people, they may retain their ability to play music or sing.
Most helpful activities for calming down your loved one with dementia:
Also, consider joining a support group nearby or online. Sharing stories/tips with other families or persons living with dementia can help in managing various difficult emotions. For instance, your loved one with dementia may suddenly send unkind texts to family members. This may call for limiting your loved one’s access to technology.
If you anticipate that persons with dementia will become aggressive and harm anyone around them, then seek immediate help. Your neurologist can prescribe antipsychotic drugs to reduce aggression. Ask your nurse or care manager about ways to improve mood and overall social interactions for your loved one with dementia. With some help from family, persons with dementia can enjoy their daily lives and social interactions.