What are the effects of stress and change on a dementia patient?

Livie asked...

What are the short and long term effects of stress and change on someone with severe dementia?

Expert Answer

Joanne Koenig Coste is a nationally recognized expert on Alzheimer's care and an outspoken advocate for patient and family care. She is the author of Learning to Speak Alzheimer's. Also, she currently is in private practice as an Alzheimer's family therapist. Ms. Koenig Coste also serves as President of Alzheimer Consulting Associates, implementing state-of-the-art Alzheimer care throughout the United States.

The effects of stress on a dementia patient can be profound. The good news is that in the later stage of the process, when the severe manifestations are taking place, stress is much less likely to effect the patient's well-being. Although this group of patients definitely react to traumatic situations, the ability to process the negativity leads to less reaction. It's important when we are thinking in terms of "a dementia" that we know what is causing this symptom. Reactions to stress are different in persons with Alzheimer's than in folks with a Frontal Lobe dementia or a vascular dementia. The latter two entities can cause a more aggressive reaction rather than a more subdued depression as in Alzheimer's.
Frequently, traumatic events can appear to hasten the dementing process both short and long term although this occurs much less often in later stages. However, it is extremely difficult to assess the level of stress in a person with dementia particularly when a change, such as a family death or a location move, take place.
It definitely behooves the carepartners, both family and professional, to assume the person is reacting the way (s)he would have before the dementia occured. It is incumbent upon the primary carepartner to keep their person with dementia feeling as secure as possible - both loved and protected. Monitor his/her body language for signs of emotional discomfort. Is she frowning? Does he seem agitated? With this group of patients, often the non-verbal language tells us far more than words could ever say. We must become alert listeners to the body language! Remember to take good care of you the carepartner.