SENIOR CORNER: Are you a caregiver? 
We can help

SENIOR CORNER: Are you a caregiver? 
We can help
Jo-Ann Callender

By Jo-Ann Callender
(File Photo) 

Several days a week, usually around sunset, Joan begins yelling.

She sees objects others don’t. She points, yells and screams. Her family is unsure what is causing her distress. Medications help with the agitation but do not take it away.

“I just sit her in a comfortable chair and let her have at it,” Amy, her caregiver and a member of her family, told me. “Eventually, she tires herself out and stops.”
Joan has Alzheimer’s disease, a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 50 to 80 percent of all dementia cases and advanced age is the greatest risk factor for the disease.

The most common symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease are memory loss and confusion, such as forgetting names, confusing family members or forgetting how to do simple tasks. Behaviors such as aggression, wandering and verbal outbursts are prevalent and very difficult to manage. The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that 50 percent of Alzheimer’s patients will display behavioral symptoms.

Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease is time-consuming. The person may appear physically fine yet needs supervision for most activities, including bathing, dressing and eating. The stress level of caregivers is exponentially increased when they must deal with behavioral issues on top of everything else.

The first step in managing difficult behaviors is discussing them with your physician, who can rule out pain and side effects from medications, and make recommendations.

Experts believe these behaviors may be a reaction to stress, frustration or discomfort. They recommend carefully observing when these issues occur, which helps identify, then isolate and minimize, triggers.

At the Adult Day Health Center, a place for seniors who cannot be alone during the day, staff members manage behaviors related to Alzheimer’s disease. They “try a variety of solutions to calm the person down,” said Darrell Wesley, the center’s director.

Managing behavioral symptoms can be tiring and frustrating, but showing these reactions can prolong or aggravate the behaviors.

“You have to have the right approach,” said Wesley. For example, create a calm and soothing atmosphere with your facial expressions, body language and tone of voice.

Experts encourage caregivers not to take the behaviors personally and advise maintaining a sense of humor. If the stress of taking care of a declining relative is overwhelming, they can seek support from others in the same situation.

The Alexandria Division of Aging and Adult Services can assist with finding help, including referrals to support groups as well as an explanation of the Adult Day Health Care Center’s resources and resources for caregivers in general. For more information go to or call 703-746-5999, ext. 1.

– The writer is the supervisor 
of adult services at the 
Alexandria Division of 
Aging and Adult Services.