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The Art of Redirection

Thursday September 3, 2020

an arrow on a blue background - the art of redirection

Whatever type of dementia a person may have, there is a good chance that they will display some undesirable behaviors.

Common Unwanted Behaviors

  • Asking the same questions over and over
  • Repeated requests
  • Negative attitude about a subject, activity, or person
  • Pacing
  • Cursing
  • Words or actions that express agitation
  • Words or actions that express anger

These behaviors have meaning. They may signal an unmet need, such as hunger or needing to use the restroom. They may be caused by an emotion – fear, loneliness, and boredom are the most common we see. Or they may be triggered by a hallucination or delusion.

Redirection can be used to address these undesirable behaviors. Redirection shifts a person’s focus from the current situation to another subject and emotion.

How to Redirect

  • Remember your loved one is not trying to be difficult. They are living in an altered reality. They are losing control.
  • Pause and take a breath. Your loved one will be able to pick up on your tone and body language. If you are frustrated, your attempts to redirect will probably fail.
  • Assess your surroundings. Is it too cold? Is it too noisy? Small adjustments can make a big difference.
  • Assess the situation. Could your loved one be hangry? Do they need to go to the bathroom?
  • Enter their reality. Don’t try to reason. Your loved one may have lost the ability to follow logic. Trying to force it will only make the situation worse for both of you. For example, Mom thinks someone stole her ring. You know she lost it. Just as you know she lost it, she knows someone stole it. She cannot follow your reasoning. You are the one that must shift.
  • Have multiple tools in your tool belt. Don’t expect what worked one day to always work. Every day is different.
  • Keep the redirection simple. Don’t overcomplicate with too many words or explanations. Redirection can be as simple as: “Look, a butterfly!” or “I think it is finally supposed to stop raining today.”
  • Include items and subjects your loved one likes. You know your loved one best. Talk about positive past experiences, hobbies, or pictures of family and friends. Bring your loved one a cozy blanket or favorite snack.

Some examples of redirection:

Example 1

Mom starts the morning by asking, “What time is my appointment with the doctor?” You reply, “Your appointment is next week.” A few minutes later, Mom says, “I need to get ready for my doctor’s appointment today.”

You could start an argument by angrily replying, “Mom, I told you the appointment is next week.” OR you could say, “I forgot to tell you that the doctor’s office called and changed the appointment to next week. Let’s get dressed and run to the grocery store instead.”

Example 2

It is time for your husband’s morning meds. He refuses them and accuses you of trying to poison him. Remove the pills, and say, “I am sorry you are upset with me. Can I get your breakfast? Cereal or eggs?” In a few minutes, try again. Say (while handing him the meds), “Honey, you asked me to remind you to take your morning meds.”

Example 3

Dad is watching the local news and hollering at the TV. He is using lots of curse words, and your children are in the next room. Ask, “Dad, will you come help me with something?”

Example 4

Your wife is searching the house for something, but she can’t tell you what it is. She is turning the house upside down – pulling everything out of closets and emptying drawers. Try, “I lose things all the time. But you know what I found the other day? A picture of you and me and in Hawaii. Let me show you.”

Example 5

Mom keeps asking to go home, even though you are all at home. Say, “How about we go home after lunch. Let’s have snack to tide us over until lunchtime.”

Example 6

Your husband keeps asking for his mom. “Where is Mom? Why isn’t she home yet?” Don’t say, “Your mom died 25 years ago.” He may not remember and is now experiencing the loss of his mother as if it is the first time. Instead say, “I bet we will see your mom later this afternoon, but for now, would you like to go for a walk with me? The weather is so nice!”

Example 7

Dad finished lunch 10 minutes ago and is asking for lunch. He is adamant he didn’t have lunch. Say, “OK. I will fix you some lunch in a few minutes, as soon as I finish the laundry. That laundry pile just keeps growing. Want to help me?” (We call this a fiblet. You have permission to lie if it is in the best interest of your loved one’s mental and physical wellbeing.)

Example 8

Your wife is worried about paying the power bill. It has already been paid, but she won’t stop asking. Say, “I will take care of that in just a couple of minutes.” If that isn’t enough, make a fake phone call to pay the bill.

Example 9

Dad is pacing outside and seems frustrated. It’s 30 degrees. Simply say, “Brr! It is getting cold out here. I have a nice cup of coffee for you inside.”

Redirection helps both you and your loved one – relieving anxiety and frustration for both of you.  If you’re struggling with a particular unwanted behavior and need some additional support, please give us call at 901-854-1200. We would be happy to talk through your specific situation.