Most people with dementia undergo behavioral changes during the course of the disease. They may become anxious or repeat the same question or activity over and over. As the disease progresses, your loved one's behavior may seem inappropriate, childlike or impulsive.
Dementia can have a very big effect on the person affected. They may fear their loss of memory and thinking skills, but they also fear the loss of who they are.
They may also find they don't understand what's going on or why they feel they're not in control of what's happening around them or to them. All of this can affect their behavior.
Common Changes in Behavior
In the middle to later stages of most types of dementia, a person may start to behave differently. This can be distressing for both the person with dementia and those who care for them.
Some common changes in behavior include:
repeating the same question or activity over and over again
restlessness – pacing up and down, wandering, fidgeting
night-time waking and sleep disturbance
following a partner or spouse around everywhere
loss of self-confidence – this may show as apathy or disinterest in their usual activities
If you're caring for someone who's showing these behaviors, it's important to try to understand why they're behaving like this, which isn't always easy.
You may find it helpful to remember that these behaviors may be a way of trying to communicate how they're feeling.
Sometimes these behaviors aren't a dementia symptom. They can be a result of frustration with not being understood or with their environment, which they no longer find familiar but confusing.
How To Cope With Common Changes In Behavior
Although changes in behavior can be difficult to deal with, it can help to work out if there are any triggers.
Do some behaviors happen at a certain time of day?
Is the person finding the home too noisy or cluttered?
Do these changes happen when a person is being challenged or asked to do something they may not want to do?
Keeping a diary for a week or two can help identify these triggers.
If the change in behavior comes on suddenly, the cause may be a health problem. The person may be in pain or discomfort from constipation or an infection.
Ask [their doctor] for an assessment to rule out or treat any underlying cause.
Keeping an active social life, continuing with activities the person with dementia has enjoyed, or finding new ones and regular gentle exercise can all help to reduce behaviors that are out of character.
Other things that can help include:
Find out what activities are in your area. Try these tips to cope with some of the more common changes in behavior.
Remember also that it's not easy being the person supporting or caring for a person with behavior changes. If you're finding things difficult, ask for support.
Repeating The Same Question or Activity
This may be a result of memory loss where the person can't remember what they've said or done.
It can be very frustrating for the [caregiver], but it's important to remember that the person isn't being deliberately difficult.
be tactful and patient
help the person find the answer themselves – for example, if they keep asking the time, buy an easy-to-read clock and keep it in a visible place
look for any underlying theme, such as the person believing they're lost, and offer reassurance
offer general reassurance – for example, that they don't need to worry about that appointment as all the arrangements are in hand
encourage someone to talk about something they like talking about – for example, a period of time or an event they enjoyed
Restlessness And Fidgeting
People with dementia often develop restless behaviors, such as pacing up and down, wandering out of the home and agitated fidgeting. This phase doesn't usually last for long.
make sure the person has plenty to eat and drink
have a daily routine, including daily walks
accompany them on a walk to shops or consider tracking devices and alarm systems (telecare) to keep them safe
give them something to occupy their hands if they fidget a lot, such as worry beads or a box of items that mean something to them
Dementia can cause problems with the person's body clock, or sleep-wake cycle.
A person with dementia may get up repeatedly during the night, unaware that it's night time.
This can be particularly hard on [caregivers], as their sleep is disturbed, too.
provide plenty of activity and exposure to daylight during the day
make sure the bedroom is comfortable and provide a nightlight or blackout blinds according to the person's needs
cut down on caffeine and alcohol in the evening
Following A Partner Or [Caregiver] Around
Dementia makes people feel insecure and anxious. They may "shadow" their partner or [caregiver] as they need constant reassurance they're not alone and they're safe.
They may also ask for people who died many years ago, or ask to go home without realizing they're in their own home.
have the person with you if you're doing chores such as ironing or cooking
reassure them that they're safe and secure if they're asking to go home
avoid telling them someone died years ago – instead, talk to them about that period in their life
Loss Of Self-confidence
Dementia can make people feel less confident about going out or doing other activities. This may seem like they've lost interest in people or activities they usually enjoy.
remember they may not have lost interest in an activity – instead, it may be that they feel they'll have trouble coping with it
reassure them the activity, or getting there, will be straightforward
explain clearly who they may be seeing
consider simpler activities or social occasions – for example, joining in a conversation among a large group of people may be more difficult to follow
Aggressive Behavior In Dementia
In the later stages of dementia, a significant number of people with dementia will develop what's known as behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia (BPSD).
The symptoms of BPSD can include:
aggression – shouting or screaming, verbal abuse, and sometimes physical abuse
delusions (unusual beliefs not based on reality)
hallucinations (hearing or seeing things that don't exist)
These types of behaviors are very distressing for the [caregiver] and for the person with dementia.
It's very important to ask your doctor to rule out or treat any underlying causes, such as:
infection, such as a urinary tract infection (UTI)
side effects of medicines
If the person you're caring for behaves in an aggressive way, try to stay calm and avoid confrontation. You may have to leave the room for a while.
If none of the coping strategies works, an antipsychotic medicine can be prescribed as a short-term treatment. This should be prescribed by a consultant psychiatrist.
*Memory Matters Utah/Nevada offers caregiver support groups in St. George, UT and Mesquite, NV. For more information contact our office at: (435) 319-0407.