HOW TO MANAGE SYMPTOMS WITHOUT DRUGS
As carers we want to try and do as much as we can for our loved ones naturally, without using drugs.
Lewy body dementia is a complex disease that includes physical, cognitive, and behavioral symptoms.
Because antipsychotic drugs are especially dangerous for people with Lewy body and could make difficult symptoms even worse, it’s best to first try non-drug treatments before resorting to medication.
Non-drug treatments are also helpful in improving symptoms to potentially reduce medication dosage.
We share 10 non-drug ways to help manage and reduce the severity of Lewy body dementia symptoms.
These suggestions should only be used if the situation is safe. If anyone is in danger of physical harm, immediately get medical help.
1. Tolerate behavior that doesn’t cause harm, focus on reassurance and distraction
People with Lewy body dementia often experience hallucinations or delusions that cause strange behavior or false accusations.
But if their behavior isn’t aggressive or harmful, they don’t seem to have any physical pain or discomfort, and they’re not upset to an extreme degree, one solution is to tolerate the behavior and not try to convince them of our reality to stop the behavior.
Instead, respond to their emotions and concerns rather than the facts or exact words. Provide comfort as needed and assure them that they’re safe.
In these cases, the side effects of medication could be far worse than the hallucinations or delusions themselves.
2. Check for physical causes
Sometimes, new behavioral symptoms or a worsening of symptoms could be caused by physical pain or discomfort that the person isn’t able to verbally express or describe.
Common physical issues include severe arthritis, injury, fever, urinary tract infection (UTI), bed sores, and constipation. In some cases, simply being tired, needing to pee, or being hungry can also trigger negative behavior.
When physical pain is well treated, negative behavioral symptoms often decrease.
3. Check for medication side effects
Sometimes medications used to treat Lewy Body dementia symptoms or other common health conditions can increase behavioral problems.
For example, over-the-counter sleep aids, bladder control medications, and drugs used to treat the physical symptoms of Lewy Body (tremors, shuffling walk, stiffness in arms or legs) can cause confusion, agitation, hallucinations, and delusions.
And benzodiazepines, common sedative medications to treat anxiety, can cause increased anxiety or worsen cognitive function in people with Lewy Body dementia.
If your older adult is taking any of these medications, speak with their doctor to find out if there are alternatives that are less likely to affect people with Lewy Body, if it can be eliminated, or if the dose can be lowered.
4. Modify their environment
Clutter, noise, and crowds can contribute to the hallucinations and delusions that typically trigger behavioral challenges.
Reducing clutter and minimizing distracting noise, people, or activity can make it easier for someone with dementia to function, reduce their anxiety, and reduce the chance that their eyes will play tricks on them and cause them to become confused or upset about what they think they’re seeing.
5. Use kind, soothing responses to comfort and calm
Someone who has dementia is no longer able to process logic and reason the way we would. Keep them as calm and happy as possible by avoiding conflicts.
Assuming they’re not hurting themselves or others, this means going along with what they say, not correcting or arguing with them, and not quizzing them about what they remember.
If they’re agitated or concerned, validate their feelings and offer comfort through gentle hugs and engaging activities.
6. Create daily routines and keep tasks simple
Routine and simplicity both reduce the chances that they’ll get angry or agitated.
Having clear structure and consistent routine each day reduces uncertainty and confusion and creates a reassuring rhythm to life.
Break down everyday tasks into smaller steps to make them simpler and reduce frustration.
Overall, focusing on successes rather than pointing out failures (and making success possible) boosts self-esteem and positive feelings.
7. Encourage exercise and physical therapy
To help with the physical symptoms of Lewy body, physical therapy options include cardiovascular, strength, and flexibility exercises, as well as gait training.
Working on general physical fitness is also helpful.
Regular exercise also boosts mood, improves physical health, and often reduces aches and pains. All these factors contribute to reducing negative behavior.
8. Consider speech therapy for swallowing problems
If Lewy Body is causing problems with swallowing, that will interfere with nutrition and cause hunger. Neither is good for someone’s mood or health – and it’s natural get “hangry” (hungry + angry) when we’re too hungry.
If that’s happening, consider speech therapy.
Speech therapists teach techniques that make swallowing easier and safer. They also make recommendations on the types and consistency of food and drinks that help with swallowing.
9. Consider alternative therapies
There are a variety of therapies that may help both the person with Lewy Body as well as caregivers.
Occupational therapy may help someone with dementia maintain skills and improve independence and confidence.
Pet therapy, or using animals to improve moods and behaviors, boosts mood in many people. Caring for a pet, even if the pet is only visiting, can promote a sense of accomplishment and purpose.
Aromatherapy can boost mood and promote relaxation. Massage therapy can loosen stiff muscles, improve circulation, and promote relaxation.
Individual and family therapy or counseling can also be useful for learning strategies to manage emotional and behavioral symptoms. This can also help caregivers learn techniques to keep calm when conflicts come up.
10. Participate in caregiver support groups
Caregiver support groups have many benefits, including hearing from people in similar situations, being able to vent frustrations, and getting tried-and-true advice.
Getting support is essential for helping you stay as calm as possible in tough situations as well as for finding creative solutions to behavior challenges.
What to do if Lewy body dementia symptoms don’t improve
In some cases, non-drug methods aren’t enough to reduce or manage challenging symptoms caused by Lewy body dementia.
When someone’s behavior is aggressive, dangerous, overly disruptive, or significantly impacts their quality of life, additional help is needed.
The best place to start is the doctor who is treating your older adult’s Lewy body dementia. They’re familiar with their health history, current medications, and any past reactions to medications.
If their doctor isn’t able to help and/or the behavior symptoms are severe, a neurologist, geriatric psychiatrist (also called a geropsychiatrist), or geriatrician who specializes in tough dementia cases may be more helpful.