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.