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Dealing With Stubborn Behavior: 8 Great Ways To Enhance Communication

Caregiver holding a senior woman's hand

If you’re caring for a loved one with dementia at home, it’s nice to know that they’re in a loving environment and that you can still spend time together making memories. But caregiving can be emotionally and physically draining, especially when their behavior changes and they show signs of stubbornness. This can be scary and upsetting, but the good news is that you’re not powerless. Having a number of strategies on hand to deploy whenever you need them gives you the means to better handle challenging situations and be more prepared in the future.

Dementia is a very complex disease. It affects each person in a unique way and changes different parts of the brain at different points in the progression of the condition. Furthermore, different types of dementias tend to have different symptoms, too. Doctors and researchers still don’t know enough about how these diseases work to predict what will happen exactly to individuals living with the disease, but an array of challenges are likely to appear and two hallmarks of dementia are resisting care and stubbornness. Keeping the below communication techniques in mind can help you deal with challenging situations in the future.

Stay calm

While sometimes it may be really challenging, it’s best to avoid getting angry, raising your voice, and showing any signs of losing your temper when talking to your loved one with dementia. Stay calm, breathe slowly, and demonstrate a relaxed posture. Speak gently and keep your voice soft, reassuring, and positive. Your loved one may pick up on your calm attitude and be less likely to escalate the situation further.


Try to understand

Think about what could be behind your loved one’s stubborn behavior and what could have triggered it. For instance, they could be frustrated with their own memory loss or confusion. Stimuli from the environment, their health, or their medications can also contribute. Taking time to ask them questions about how they’re feeling can go a long way. As soon as you can identify what prompts the behavior, you will be able to deal with the situation properly.

Ask simple, answerable questions

Ask only one question at a time and ideally with a yes or no answer. Avoid open-ended questions and giving them too many options. For instance, instead of asking them what they want to drink, ask if they’d like tea or coffee. Asking simple questions can also help you find out why your loved one is behaving in a certain way. As an example, they may be refusing to go to the doctor because they’re scared of test results.

Use distractions

Certain types of stubborn behavior — for instance when your loved one insists on doing something that’s not possible at the time — can be averted by getting them involved with a different activity. Those that keep the mind occupied work best, so consider bringing out a puzzle or reading something together. You can also try distracting them by talking about a different topic, such as asking them to talk about their favorite hobby, pet, or a family event.

Listen more than you talk

Listen to what’s bothering your loved one when they’re acting up. They might be trying to tell you but you may have to read between the lines. Try to validate their feelings and if they’re scared, reassure them and tell them they’re safe with you.


Keep it simple and rephrase your sentences

When it comes to your loved one with dementia who just won’t listen, explaining in detail why certain things need to happen is not a good idea. Instead, leaving things simple and easy to understand is always best. At times, you may experience a complete communication breakdown when your loved one doesn’t understand what you’re trying to say. If this happens, try rephrasing your sentences and use more simple structures.

Use visual cues

People with dementia often pay more attention to what they see than to what they hear. Use clear visual cues such as hand gestures and facial expressions. Pointing and demonstrating can also help. You can also hold your loved one’s hand to keep their attention and give them a warm smile to offer reassurance.

Let them win sometimes

If your loved one’s stubborn behavior keeps returning, sometimes you may find it difficult to cope. When a challenging situation appears, consider if it is serious and important enough to argue about. For instance, making a doctor’s appointment may not be negotiable, but staying in bed and not getting dressed for just an extra hour may be feasible. Giving them two options for how they can do a certain thing can also make them feel like they have a choice, encouraging them to go along with your plan.

If you think you may need help with caring for your loved one, take our short assessment quiz to ensure they get the best possible care and can continue living as comfortably as possible. If you have any questions about dementia, don’t hesitate to reach out to us!

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