Managing Behaviour Changes

Dementia can result in the occurrence of unexpected or unusual behaviours.

Sometimes it’s described as “aggressive behaviour” or “acting out” and can cause stress, disruption, confusion, frustration and sadness for the people around them.

Caring for a person with dementia can be a challenge, especially when trying to manage difficult or unwanted behaviour changes. It’s important to remember that the underlying causes stem from changes taking place within the brain. 

Behaviours occur because of the disease, not because of the person with dementia. 

Behaviours can range from repetitive actions to aggression in some cases. Depending on the type of dementia, these behaviours may be new or recurring and may change over time.

In many cases, behaviours can be managed by improving your knowledge about dementia and enhancing communication with the person.

All behaviour has meaning

As Dr David Hogan, a local specialist in dementia care, stated, “All behaviour has meaning.” Unwanted behaviours can be triggered by several things, including (but not limited to):

  • The person’s attempts to communicate
  • Too much / too little (noise, distraction, activity level, conversation, etc.)
  • Environmental stimulus (discomfort with places, people or things)
  • Unmet needs

Behaviour can sometimes be interpreted as a form of communication, though you may be unclear as to what the person is trying to communicate. 

Identifying behaviour triggers 

In order to help identify the triggers for behaviour changes, it helps to try to understand what is happening to the person before, during and after the behaviour.

By removing these triggers, oftentimes you may avoid the undesirable behaviours. 

For instance, behaviours can sometimes indicate an unmet need. A sudden change in behaviour may be due to a health condition such as a urinary tract infection, pain or discomfort, as opposed to the person experiencing sudden   progression of the disease or simply “being difficult.”

Re-evaluate the situation, explore and consider a range of options. Try a different approach and consult your family physician if needed.

Non-pharmaceutical approaches should be tried first. Try providing reassurance and comfort; validating the person’s emotions of fear, anger or sadness and trying gentle distraction techniques by introducing a favourite activity.

Suggested strategies for managing behaviours include:

  • Check for pain, hunger, thirst, constipation, full bladder, fatigue, infections and skin irritation
  • Look for reasons behind the behaviour and do not take the behaviour personally
  • Validate and acknowledge the emotion and respond to the emotion
  • Make sure the environment is calm and comfortable - lighting, temperature, noise level, and not too crowded
  • Try and avoid arguments or confrontations
  • Allow adequate rest between periods of activity and stimulation
  • Redirect the person’s attention to a favourite activity or object

We can help you.

Our team at Alzheimer Calgary can help you navigate challenging behaviours, identify behaviour triggers and provide ongoing emotional support for you and your family members.

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Further Information
Video: Behaviour changes and strategies to manage them