Understanding Self-Harming in Dementia Patients

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As dementia develops, your loved one may start to lose the ability to control their impulses. Such stress can result in in agitation, emotional outburst, or isolation. This can be manifest as verbal or physical abuse towards themselves or others.

It is possible to use physical, chemical or environmental restraints to prevent self-harm, but these methods are not recommended for long-term use or deemed as the first choice of health care professionals. Such treatments can cause an individual to lose skills and abilities, as well as self-esteem and independence. To understand dementia, family members or care providers need to learn about triggers, or specific times of day that may bring agitation.

These changes can often be very frightening. As a caregiver, it is important to build a strong support system, to better support the patient. There is a wealth of professional advice available on dementia and strategies for dealing with each stage.
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Self-Harm in Dementia Patients

Watching a friend or family member living with dementia progress can be a very difficult experience. The person may be aware of what’s happening to them to some extent, resulting in distress which can in turn, be difficult for an individual witness. As such, it’s important to remember during this experience to be compassionate with each other, acknowledging all parties involved need support and comfort.

Providing a Comfortable and Safe Environment

Many factors may contribute to or agitate the person’s feelings of security, such as a busy, noisy, or bright environment. It is important for the individual to feel safe. There may be any number of changes you can make that will reduce their anxiety or agitation, such as pictures, aromas, and pets.
If cuts and bruises are showing up that you hadn’t noticed before, it will be a good idea to supervise their activities more closely to see if there are certain times or occasions when they are more likely to get agitated or self-harm.


Make allowances for the person’s changing communication abilities. If the individual is becoming argumentative, it may help to distract them or to change the subject. If it’s something they still need to talk about, you can make it easier with shorter sentences or simpler words, or by asking questions with simple yes or no answers.
Try to keep interactions bright and positive and let them know that they are cared for and supported. While it may not be the relationship you had with them before, your interactions with someone suffering from dementia can still be rich and loving.
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