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Colicky Dementia

By Shay Jacobson, RN, MA, NMG

(Page 1 of 4)

Dementia is a term that brings to mind a pleasantly confused, grandmotherly figure—sweet, gentle and easy to redirect.  Adult children believe and trust that Mom will only exhibit her most endearing qualities, be socially appropriate, and docilely follow the directions of her caregivers.  But what happens when an already misfiring mind responds chaotically to the world around it, veering drastically from the peaceful path?

Dementia presents differently in different people. Existing pre-morbid conditions may adversely affect the face of dementia. Untreated mental illness, undetected substance abuse, and personality disorders all result in frenzied presentation.  This presentation appears to be bizarre and disconnected from reality on its face—but is it?

There is a very common condition that is well-known in the lay and professional populations called colic.  The strict medical definition of colic is a condition of a healthy baby in which it shows periods of intense, unexplained fussing/crying lasting more than 3 hours a day, more than 3 days a week for more than 3 weeks.   There is much attention given to this condition and much to be learned from the coping strategies that have developed to address the needs of an inconsolable child.  So let us return to a person suffering from atypical dementia and define what colic looks like in an adult.

Colicky dementia is unpredictable, inconsolable, and results in disproportionate behavioral reactions to the reality of the individual’s environment, inner health, and caregiving.   The individual exhibits a chronic state of anxiety, panic, and circular thinking that last for periods exceeding 3 hours a day more than 3 days a week for more than 3 weeks.

This condition ensnarls the individual in a continuous fight-or-flight response with their caregivers and the environment.  This is more than a nuisance to the caregiver as it leads to serious caregiver stress, especially if they do not find ways to cope with the colicky behavior.

The root cause of colicky dementia is discontent with the environment. The individual reacts with fear and panic when they feel unsafe or uneasy. They simply do not feel in control. Since they cannot communicate normally with their surroundings and those who care for them, they continue to misread the data input from their surroundings and those who care for them and react with escalating and circular panic. The fight-or-flight response has never had a clearer presentation than with colicky dementia. They resort to undesirable behaviors such as shouting, biting, crying and hitting in an ineffectual attempt to reduce the tension in their own mind.


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