How do we handle my dad's destructive habits?

Carolo asked...

My father has dementia and goes through a phase almost daily where he gets destructive. It can occur at any time of day. I am having difficulty sitting back and watching him destroy things but when I try to sidetrack him or intervene he seems to get more frustrated. So far it is only property damage, nothing physical or self-destructive. However, some of the property could be dangerous "“ for example, trying to dismantle a rock border made of small boulders that are heavy enough they could break bones. Other examples include digging up the lawn, tearing up papers, taking apart family albums, and tearing pages out of books. I have tried to find activities that have a similar feel to distract him but so far it hasn't worked "“ when he gets into this mood he seems to be so driven that distractions don't work. Any suggestions before he decides to tear down the house?

Expert Answer

Helene Bergman, LMSW, is a certified geriatric care manager (C-ASWCM) and owner of Elder Care Alternatives, a professional geriatric care management business in New York City. She consults with nursing homes and daycare programs to develop specialized programs for Alzheimer's patients.

Patients with dementia crave activity but due to their impairments, may choose an undertaking that is dangerous or engage in some aimless wandering. When left to their own devices, there is much risk -to themselves, to others and to property. Their judgment is poor not be intent but due to the disease process.

Creating a structured program is the best antidote to destructive behavior. Appropriate endeavors will distract a patient with dementia and redirect him/her and nurture their retained strengths. Of course this can take both time and effort and this is the goal of Adult Day Care Programs. I am not sure where you live but you might begin researching the local Alzheimer Association for such programs. There are websites that offer products specifically for dementia patients {} or {}. The key is that you cannot alter your dad's behavior but you can restructure the environment to make it safer.

If nothing works, perhaps a pharmacological approach might be needed. This would necessitate visiting his psychiatrist or neurologist to see what drug, at its lowest dose, might control these behaviors. This is the least desired approach but might be needed to avert real danger.