Challenging Situations Copy

Please consider bullets as red.

From time to time there will be situations where someone says or does something that is uncomfortable or inappropriate. This can be related to changes in the brain in self-regulation and insight. They may not realize that what they said was offensive, or may have ‘lost their filter’ and shared opinions that could be hurtful to others.

Examples may include:

  • Using language that is not appropriate such as swearing, using slang, derogatory language or a racial slur
  • Continuing to speak “on and on”, including over others
  • Sharing personal information that may make others uncomfortable
  • Touching artwork, objects, or the facilitator

If a challenging situation happens, remain calm and remind yourself of why it may have happened.

Remain enthusiastic, and engaged, and monitor your emotional reactions. If there is a small slip, you may simply ignore it. In other cases, modelling more appropriate language or actions can improve the situation. When comments are made that could be insensitive or insulting, acknowledge you have heard what was said and then rephrase with terms that are more appropriate or redirect the conversation or engage the participant in a more suitable activity. If the offensive comment is not addressed, the participant may repeat it. Your acknowledgement does not mean that you agree with the participant, nor that you agree with their behavior, but it is a step in redirecting the behaviour. It is also important if one participant says something to another that is uncomfortable, that you acknowledge it, and redirect so that both feel acknowledged.

Avoid arguing. Some participants will be unable to see other points of view, or to understand things that contradict their own ideas. Disagreeing or pursuing ‘being right’ can lead to heightened negative emotions, and stress. Remember that the changes that happen in the brain of someone with dementia can make it difficult to understand and retain new ideas, to see other perspectives, or to change a set idea.

In an AGH example, we talked about a photograph by an indigenous artist, and a participant repeatedly used the term ‘eskimo’ and made comments about the clothing in the image that were culturally insensitive or out-of-date. The facilitator continued to use the correct term, to model better language choices for the group. To redirect insensitive comments, she refocused the group on the image, and indicated that in this image the clothing in the image had specific names and meanings and used the opportunity to highlight a more appropriate description, using comments like this:

“From reading more about this artwork, I have learned that this Inuk woman’s coat is called an amauti, and that each family or community had specific ways of stitching or shaping their amauti’s to indicate where they came from”.

Another example comes to mind when discussing a painting of a woman:

A participant commented: “Wow, that woman is really fat.”

The facilitator replied: “This artist is very interested in the human figure in all of its forms, capturing the beauty of each subject. What colours or details do you notice in the clothing she is wearing?”

When participants use touch inappropriately, whether touching art or objects or the facilitator, the reasons are similar – changes in the brain can result in reduced inhibitions, or self regulation. Gently but firmly ask them not to touch (you or the object).

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