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Re-focus Those with Dementia to a Better Place, Time

By Todd A. Shetter, Chief Operating Officer, ActivCare Living


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.

Using reality orientation with individuals with dementia or correcting them is no longer recommended, rarely effective and may create painful emotional periods. It only serves to create a continuous loop of sadness, frustration and confusion.

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:

  • Acknowledge. Genuinely acknowledge that you hear and realize their request, concern, problem or fear. Tell them you understand why they feel the way they do.

  • 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.

You may feel like you are telling little white lies, and you are. What is important is that you are moving them away from emotionally raw and painful feeling to a place of comfort, purpose and involvement. It may last for the rest of the day or it may need to be re-focused and redirected multiple times each day. The important thing is to be genuine, follow each of the steps and stay engaged.