Medical and physical issues
Last month my brother had a fit. As I didn’t know what was happening, I was scared and I panicked. Everything was all right though. I called the doctor afterwards. She explained that it was a consequence of dementia, but nothing to worry about. She also told me what I could do to help and I think that I will cope much better if it ever happens again.
A fit is caused by a burst of electrical activity in brain cells. It is not the same as an epileptic fit, nor is it the start of another disorder. It is merely a consequence of dementia. Although it can be stressful to watch, as you may have already discovered, it is rarely dangerous and is not a sign of insanity. Some fits are more dramatic than others. A fit might consist of a repetitive movement of the hand or arm, or might involve the person with dementia becoming rigid, clenching their teeth, jerking and even temporarily stopping breathing. When faced with this situation, you may feel helpless and concerned about what to do for the best. Many people find it frightening. However, once you understand what it is and realise how you can help, you will probably feel more in control of the situation and less worried.
How to cope with fits
What to do when the person with dementia has a fit
As stated above, there is nothing to worry about. If you can manage to remain calm, you will be better able to think clearly and take the necessary steps to prevent the person with dementia from coming to any harm. It is not necessary to try to stop the fit or to put a spoon in their mouth. In fact, you should avoid doing so. Simply let the fit run its course. It will end naturally in due time. However, as a result of the uncontrollable movements of the arms and legs, the person with dementia risks injuring themselves on the surrounding furniture. Try to lower the person gently to the floor or onto a soft chair. Clear the area of objects that might cause injury and try to loosen the person’s clothing if you can get at it easily.
What to do after the fit
When the fit has naturally come to an end, check that the person is still breathing. If they do not seem to be breathing, gently raise their chin and push their forehead back to clear the air passage. If you notice that there is saliva around the person’s mouth, turn their head gently to one side and wipe around their mouth. After the fit, the person may feel shocked by the experience and need reassurance. Some people with dementia feel irritated or aggressive, others confused. The person may be unaware of what has happened. You may also be disturbed by the experience, particularly if it is the first time. After the first fit, when you have had time to collect yourself, you should call the doctor so that he or she can determine the cause, perhaps prescribe medication to minimise the risk of further fits and give you additional advice on what to do in the future. You should also contact your doctor in order to reconfirm the diagnosis if fits occur in the early stages of the disease or repeatedly.
Last Updated: Tuesday 11 August 2009