Breakaway Techniques for Dementia Care: How Helpful is it?

Working in a dementia care home can be incredibly rewarding, but it also comes with unique challenges.

 Residents living with dementia may experience changes in behaviour, including moments of agitation or frustration. 

These situations can be stressful for both staff and residents. 

However, there’s a way to navigate these moments safely and respectfully: breakaway techniques. We would talk about breakaway techniques, why it is important, why getting trained on breakaway techniques can be helpful to look after people living with dementia. 

Also, we will look at the pros and cons with other challenging behaviour methods.

Table of Contents

Dementia and Behaviour:

Why Least Restrictive Methods Matter:

Breakaway Techniques in Action:

Scenario 1: Feeling Lost

Scenario 2: Overstimulation

Scenario 3: Feeling Unwell

Beyond Breakaway Techniques:

Pros and Cons of Different Techniques:


Dementia and Behaviour:

Dementia affects the brain, leading to memory loss, confusion, and sometimes, changes in mood and behaviour. 

These changes can be triggered by various factors, such as pain, feeling overwhelmed, or simply not understanding what’s happening around them.

Unlike someone who might become angry due to a specific conflict, a person with dementia might lash out due to a feeling of fear or confusion. 

Here’s where traditional methods of conflict resolution might not be as effective.

Why Least Restrictive Methods Matter:

Many traditional conflict resolution methods rely on reasoning and logic. Unfortunately, these can be lost on someone experiencing dementia. 

This is where the principle of using the least restrictive method comes in. 

Breakaway techniques prioritize de-escalation and creating space over restraint. Here’s why this approach is crucial:

  • Understanding, not punishment: Dementia-related behaviour is often a symptom of the disease itself, not a conscious choice. Breakaway techniques help us understand the resident’s needs and address the underlying cause of their frustration.
  • Respect and dignity: Restraint can be physically and emotionally challenging for someone with dementia. Breakaway techniques allow us to maintain a resident’s dignity and sense of independence.
  • Safety for everyone: By de-escalating the situation, breakaway techniques minimize the risk of injury for both staff and residents.

Breakaway Techniques in Action:

Let’s see how some of these techniques can be applied in real-life scenarios:

Scenario 1: Feeling Lost

Resident: Mrs. Davies, a kind resident, becomes agitated and tries to leave the care home during her evening walk.

Breakaway Technique: Redirection: The care worker calmly mentions Mrs. Davies’ favourite evening activity, like singing in the lounge. She guides her back inside with a gentle hand on her arm, offering a reassuring smile.

Why: Redirection helps shift Mrs. Davies’ focus away from wanting to leave, potentially linked to feeling lost or wanting to go “home.” This avoids a physical struggle and respects her desire for activity.

Scenario 2: Overstimulation

Resident: Mr. Patel, normally calm, becomes restless and agitated during a noisy bingo game in the common room.

Breakaway Technique: Body Positioning: The care worker approaches Mr. Patel calmly, placing themselves slightly off-center and maintaining a steady voice. They offer him the option to move to a quieter space like the library.

Why: Body positioning creates a safe space and avoids a confrontation. Offering a quieter area addresses the possible cause of his agitation, which could be sensory overload from the noise and activity.

Scenario 3: Feeling Unwell

Resident: Mrs. Miller, usually chatty, becomes withdrawn and refuses to take her medication.

Breakaway Technique: De-escalation: The care worker sits beside Mrs. Miller, speaks in a soothing voice, and asks open-ended questions like, “How are you feeling today?” They offer her a sip of water and wait patiently for her response.

Why: Dementia can make communication challenging. De-escalation techniques help build trust and encourage Mrs. Miller to feel comfortable expressing herself. Patience allows her the control to make her own decisions, reducing frustration.

Beyond Breakaway Techniques:

Breakaway training is a crucial element, but it’s not the only tool in the toolbox. 

Here’s a look at other training options dementia care staff may receive:

  • Understanding Dementia: Training on the disease itself, its various stages, and the reasons behind behavioural changes.
  • Communication Skills: Techniques for clear and patient communication tailored to individuals with dementia.
  • De-escalation Strategies: Non-physical techniques to calm agitated residents and avoid confrontation.

Pros and Cons of Different Techniques:

  • Restraint:

 Pros: May be necessary in extreme situations. 

Cons: Should be a last resort, can be physically and emotionally harmful, and can escalate aggression.

  • Verbal De-escalation/Validation: 

Pros: Promotes respect and dignity, avoids physical confrontation. 

Cons: May not always be effective when communication is compromised.

  • Environmental Modification: 

Pros: Reduces triggers in the environment that might lead to agitation. 

Cons: Requires planning and adjustments to the care home layout.


Breakaway techniques are a powerful tool for dementia care staff. 

They empower caregivers to navigate challenging situations safely and respectfully. 

By prioritizing de-escalation, understanding residents’ needs, and using the least restrictive methods, staff can create a calmer and more positive environment for both themselves and those they care for.


  • Invest in regular training for staff to ensure familiarity and confidence in using breakaway techniques.
  • Combine breakaway training with education on dementia and communication skills for a well-rounded approach.
  • Encourage open communication and collaboration amongst staff to share experiences and support each other.
  • Prioritize a culture of safety and respect within the care home, fostering trust and understanding with residents.

By taking these steps, dementia care homes can create a space where residents with dementia feel valued and supported, while ensuring staff are equipped to handle complex situations with empathy and skill.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *