Whether it’s a nostalgic tune on the radio that brings back fond memories, the sight of needles in a doctor’s office that evokes fear, or the comforting smell of your favourite home cooked meal—triggers can be found all around us. We simply need to take the time to stop and recognize them, as doing so can allow us to better understand ourselves and others.
This understanding can be especially helpful in finding creative solutions to a challenging behaviour exhibited by someone with dementia. The recent case of a client of mine and her husband, who has dementia, provided a great example of this. The discovered trigger was a commonplace object that many of us find in our purses, or sometimes hidden away in drawers, often in the company of hairbrushes and mascara tubes. It was a simple makeup item—lipstick!
Why was lipstick a trigger for a challenging behaviour? The reason was rooted in the paranoid behaviour displayed by my client’s husband whenever he saw his wife leave the house. Before she could even set foot outside, she would be faced by a barrage of questions—“Where are you going? Who are you going with? How many people are you meeting?” Understandably, she was becoming increasingly exasperated by his incessant questioning. Since this mistrustful behaviour was so unlike his ‘pre-dementia’ personality, she knew it was linked to his condition, but she didn’t know how to stop it. She then realized that though she could not ‘switch off’ his dementia, as we would a light switch, she could ‘switch off’ a more specific trigger.
In the mornings when her husband would leave to participate in a day program, she would make sure to not get dressed to go out until after he had left. Most importantly she would purposely not put on her lipstick, knowing it was a signal to him that she was leaving the house. It worked! He would leave peacefully and she in turn got a break from his questioning.
By using a bit of creative thinking and uncovering a trigger, my client found a way to limit her husband’s anxiety and create more peace of mind for herself in the bargain. Whether it’s a sight, a sound, a smell, a texture— her story proves that identifying triggers can lead to effective solutions. So remember to take a little time to stop and smell the flowers and, while you’re at it, spot the triggers as well. ☺