One of the most effective techniques in dementia care is probably one of the least discussed and documented. Caregivers and professionals alike rely on redirection to accomplish many tasks each day that otherwise would be impossible to complete.
Redirection is the simple act of acknowledging and distracting in order to redirect focus to a more productive or safer topic or activity.
An individual with dementia may become overly obsessed or fixated with returning to a past home, speaking to a family member who is no longer living or catching a train or bus that is not coming. Redirecting, when performed appropriately and effectively, can comfort and move individuals away from episodes of anxiety, fear and confusion.
Follow these three simple, but critical, steps when employing redirection techniques:
- Genuinely acknowledge that you hear and realize their request, concern, problem, or fear. Tell them you understand why they feel the way they do. Validate their feeling.
- Ask for their permission to assist them. Don’t offer to solve the problem or assume responsibility; offer to help the person. The goal in this step is to reach a sense of calm and establish trust.
- Gently redirect. Once you have received a level of attention, calm and trust, then you can redirect. Engage them by asking for a favor or for their assistance. Let them know that you would like them to join you in solving a different issue or completing a task together. The new focus needs to be physically and substantively different than the issue they were fixated on. Many times a new view and a change of scenery help the redirection.
Here is an example of how redirection works:
Caregiver: “Mrs. Smith, why are you crying?”
Dementia Resident: “I’m really worried.”
Caregiver: “What is wrong?”
Dementia Resident: “My mother was supposed to be here two hours ago to pick me up to take me to school. I think she may have forgotten me. She has never been late before. She always picks me up from school. Maybe she has been in a car accident? What am I going to do?”
Caregiver: “I understand now why you are feeling so sad. I’m sorry you are feeling lost and alone right now. Would it be OK if I tried to help you out and stayed next to you for a few minutes?
Dementia Resident: “Ok”
Caregiver: “I’ll tell you what we could do. While we are waiting for her could you help me with something? Let’s go over her because I really need your help in picking out the right decorations to hang in the windows for Spring. We have so many and I can’t decide which colors look best. Do you think you could help me with that? You are really good with picking colors that go together. Let’s go.”