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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Huelat

Navigating Chaotic Moments: The Power of Positive Distractions in Dementia Care

As a caregiver for someone with dementia, you've likely encountered challenging situations that escalate into meltdowns, leaving you feeling frustrated and powerless. Whether it's a refusal to enter the home, resisting a shower, or even physical outbursts, these disruptive behaviors can be emotionally draining. How can caregivers effectively handle these situations? One valuable strategy is to employ the technique of "Positive Distractions."


What exactly are positive distractions, and can they truly be effective during a chaotic meltdown? A positive distraction is essentially a diversion from the immediate issue at hand. Take, for instance, a scenario where your loved one adamantly claims that the current residence is not theirs. No amount of reasoning or insistence on your part seems to make a difference; in fact, it might worsen the situation. I vividly remember a similar incident with my own mother before I discovered the power of positive distractions.


During one challenging episode, my attempts to convince her that she was, indeed, in her own home only fueled her resistance. Eventually, out of desperation, I called my brother for assistance. He didn't engage in a futile attempt to change her perception. Instead, he initiated a normal conversation, asking how she was doing. The distraction proved effective as her focus shifted, and the meltdown subsided. It became clear that diverting attention away from the distressing situation was a more fruitful intervention than arguing.


This realization stayed with me, and during a subsequent episode, I refrained from arguing when my mother insisted her home belonged to strangers. Instead, I suggested we take a walk around the block to find her house. Upon returning, I pointed out familiar details—roses she had planted, the porch swing she and my dad enjoyed. Reminding her of cherished memories, I successfully led her into the house without confrontation.


Positive distractions can manifest in various forms, such as a phone call, visual reminders of favorite things, a stroll around the neighborhood, a coffee break, or highlighting something enjoyable like a playful squirrel or a beautiful flower. The key is to avoid disagreement or attempts at persuasion, opting instead for a diversion from the upsetting event.

What makes positive distraction interventions particularly successful is the weakened short-term memory characteristic of individuals with dementia. They are easily distracted and often forget the cause of their distress, allowing positive distractions to work effectively. This approach can be applied to various disruptive behaviors, from redirecting head-banging with an ice cream treat to encouraging bathing through music, fragrant towels, or engaging stories.


Objects like pictures, animals, or food can serve as effective distractions, but don't underestimate the power of personal elements like a soothing phone call, a comforting voice, a familiar song, a heartwarming story, or a gentle touch. Get creative, develop your repertoire of positive distractions, and share them with fellow caregivers. Consistently incorporating these strategies into your care routine can make a significant difference.


For further insights into positive distractions and other environmental interventions, I invite you to explore my book, "Taming the Chaos of Dementia: A Caregiver's Guide to Interventions that Make a Difference." It's essential to note that while positive distractions can be incredibly effective, some meltdowns may escalate and become unmanageable. If these incidents become frequent, do not hesitate to seek help and discuss the situation with your doctor. Remember, you are not alone in this journey, and support is available.


Entertaining squirrel  can delight those with dementia
Positive distractions for those with dementia

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