What is a Dementia Catastrophic Reaction?

Dementia catastrophic reactions can be overwhelming and difficult to understand for both the person with dementia and their caregivers. Learn more about what causes these reactions, common triggers, and how to respond and manage them in this helpful guide.

What is a Dementia Catastrophic Reaction?

Dementia Catastrophic Reaction are responses to an apparently regular, non-threatening situation. The use of the word “catastrophic” indicates that there is a disaster, or some horrible event that occurred. It appears to be the how it must  feel to the family member with dementia when experiencing this type of reaction.

According to a research study  by the College of Rochester Medical Center, dementia catastrophic reactions are 5 times most likely to occur in individuals who are in the middle stages of dementia, rather than the later phases or early stages. This seems to be due to the fact that individuals experiencing the middle stages of dementia could typically still know and realize their deficits and decline in abilities, but no longer have be able to cope or compensate with any longer.

What Are Some Examples of  a Dementia Catastrophic Reaction?

Physical acting out and hostile behaviors such as hitting, kicking
Uncontrollable emotional outbursts such as shouting, screaming or sobbing frantically

Why Does a Dementia Catastrophic Reaction Occur ?

Individuals with dementia no longer have the ability can translate reality with logic. They are now ruled by their emotions.  Sensations of being overwhelmed or overstimulated  by the environment. For example,if the lights are very bright,there are numerous people talking at once and the tv is on, a  dementia catastrophic reaction could most likely take place.
Some individuals with dementia may also experience paranoia and delusions, which can make them extremely afraid of others, even those that are providing care.

Some dementia patients may have had previous unpleasant experiences that could influence how they react or  respond to attempts to assist with bathing or dressing.

The College of Rochester study found that the most common trigger for a dementia catastrophic reaction is assistance with individual hygiene tasks. It also determined that  evening time is the most frequent time of day that a dementia catastrophic reaction may occur.

Can a Dementia Catastrophic Reaction Be Prevented?

Often, the method you interact and communicate with others can influence how they  react or respond to you. Remember, the a person with dementia may not understand what you are saying to them, but HOW you are speaking to them. They pick up on your emotions.

Right here are some possible approaches you can make use of to decrease the chance of a dementia catastrophic reaction:.

Always approach the dementia patient from the front, rather than the back or side, which could alarm them.
Don’t appear rushed, frustrated or irritated.
Know the person’s preferences. Some individuals react really positively to touch and others bristle even if somebody invades their personal space.
Discuss plainly , and calmly, what you would like to have the person do prior to attempting to do it. (“Dinner’s ready. Let’s walk together to the table.”).
Don’t argue or criticize with a person who has dementia.
Avoid over-fatigue if possible.
As much as possible, avoid sudden changes in routine.
Assess the situation and observes for symptoms of anxiety or causes of pain or stress. Offer treatment, if suitable.

How Should a Caregiver Respond  to  a Dementia Catastrophic Reaction?

Give the individual physical space.
If you know what triggered the reaction, stop it immediately. That may mean turning off the TV, asking others to speak quietly, or even lowering the lights. If it is absolutely necessary task at that particular time, you may want to take a break and try later, using a different approach.
Don’t use restraints or force.

Be respectful, not patronizing. Make eye contact and speak slowly.

Use the individual’s name.

Allow extra time to relax and become calm.

Reassurance is so important at this time. If your family member has an object to something that gives them comfort ( a baby doll, a stuffed animal) allow them to have it.

Using diversion as your family member  starts to calm down. Offer a snack, a walk, or even assistance with a chore.

A dementia catastrophic reaction is traumatic for the dementia patient , so encouraging a diversion will allow them to concentrate on something else.

If your family member  has actually experienced a dementia catastrophic reaction previously, you should constantly keep in mind exactly what appeared to trigger the response. You will need to assess what occurred prior to the response and put things in place to try and prevent that behavior, if at all possible.

If a dementia catastrophic  reaction is uncommon for your family member, you will also want to consider if she has any changes in their health that could be causing this behavior. Observe for signs and symptoms of  pain or  discomfort, such as a fall or other injury. Or is your family member experiencing delirium. Delirium (normally caused by an infection or various other diseases) can trigger an abrupt change in mental status and/or behaviors, and it can appear as enhanced confusion or uncharacteristic resistive and aggressive behaviors.

Contact your health care provider to discuss the changes and ask if a Urinary Tract Infection or other infection may need to be ruled out.

To learn more about Dementia Behaviors and how to handle them