Behavior is the Result of Unmet Need

Those of us trained in the care of folks with dementia are trained to see negative behavior as a sign of some unmet need. The individual is agitated, apathetic, combative, to list a few examples, because he or she has a need that is not being met. Perhaps it is pain, boredom, over-stimulation, the need for rest or sleep. The inability to communicate results in an acting out, a behavior. It is the trained caregivers’ job to piece out what need is being expressed. If an individual is combative, we are trained to back up, reduce demand. A different approach and perhaps a different time is needed. Sometimes the combative behavior calls for a different person to fulfill the activity. Sometimes an objective and trained observer can see the unmet need where the family caregiver can not. This is where a dementia coach can provide a valuable service.

As I worked with a client recently, I realized that the same rule often applies to those of us without a dementia diagnosis. We may seek help from a lawyer when our more pressing need is a counselor or a home health service. We may reach for food when we are really thirsty. We may act aggressive to a family member or work colleague when our need for time to our self is unmet. Our inability to communicate appropriately results in an acting out, a behavior.

Whether we are working with an individual with dementia or simply trying to thrive in everyday life, it is a valuable perspective to process the individual’s behavior rather than to react with one of our own. To go a step further and proffer a resource that addresses the unmet need may be the greatest gift to give.

About Cate

Passionate about dementia care and quality of life throughout the last days of life----sums up Cate McCarty, Dr. Cate, Dementia Coach. With close to forty years of long-term care experience in nursing and recreation, a Master's in Thanatology and a PhD in Aging Studies, Dr. Cate seizes every opportunity to translate research into quality of life for individuals with dementia and all of us who have the honor to "rub elbows" with them.
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