Common dementia behaviors
A person with Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia may become irritable and even belligerent without being provoked. They may go in and out of confusion and disorientation or attempt to manipulate those around them. Here are examples of common dementia behaviors and phrases you may hear:
This behavior includes being mean, lashing out, or using combative statements such as “I don’t want to take a shower!” or “I don’t want to eat that!” Sometimes this type of anger may escalate to physical violence.
This could mean saying phrases like:
- “I want to go home!”
- “This isn’t my house.”
- “When are we leaving?”
- “Why are we here?”
Paranoia and frequent mood swings also often result from a person with dementia feeling confused.
This can include unfounded accusations such as “You stole my vacuum cleaner!” Struggling to balance a checkbook or calculate a tip at a restaurant can also be the result of dementia. Other examples include hoarding, stockpiling, and repeating statements and tasks.
This usually involves inventing truths to get what they want. A person with dementia may say things like “You told me I could drive to the store,” or use bargaining methods such as “If you let me drive to the store, I will take my medicine.”
Tips for dealing with dementia and difficult behaviors
Managing dementia behaviors may be difficult, but it’s not impossible. Your words and actions have the power to quickly deescalate intense situations.
Follow some expert do’s and don’ts for calmly and effectively dealing with these four common types of dementia behaviors:
1. How to handle an aggressive or combative loved one
A lot of times, aggression is coming from pure fear and thode with dementia are more apt to hit, kick, or bite in response to feeling helpless or afraid.
Do: The key to responding with care to aggression caused by dementia is to try to identify the cause. What is the person feeling to make them behave aggressively?
- Are they in pain?
- Is their mind just wandering?
- Have they been triggered by something?
Don’t: The worst thing you can do is engage in an argument or force the issue that’s creating the aggression. Don’t try to forcibly restrain the person unless there is absolutely no choice.
2. How to manage repeated questions and confusion
Do: When your aging loved one is confused about where they are or what’s happening, try these tips from the American Psychological Association:
- Communicate with simple explanations
- Use photos and other tangible items to help explain situations
- Remain calm and supportive, and don’t take their confusion personally
- Use tools such as alarms, calendars, and to-do lists to help them remember tasks
Don’t: Lengthy explanations don’t work. You have to figure out what’s going to make the person feel the safest, even if that ends up being a therapeutic lie. You can’t reason with someone who has Alzheimer’s or dementia. A lot of times, we’re triggering the response we’re getting because of the questions we’re asking.
3. How to help with poor judgment
The deterioration of brain cells caused by Alzheimer’s disease leads to poor judgment and errors in thinking. Some of these symptoms are obvious and apparent such as hoarding household items, accusing a family member of stealing, or forgetting how to do routine tasks. These tasks can include balancing a checkbook or paying bills on time.
Some signs are more subtle, making it difficult for your aging loved one to realize they’re struggling. If you’re curious and don’t want to ask, take a look at a heating bill as sometimes payments are delinquent, or bills aren’t being paid at all.
Do: A caregiver can often minimize frustration and embarrassment for dementia patients by:
- Listening and offering subtle help
- Working together to fix a problem
- Simplifying a task or routine by breaking it down into smaller steps
Don’t: Blatantly questioning the person’s ability to take care of the situation at hand or arguing with them isn’t helpful. You may risk alienating them. Any response that can be interpreted as accusatory or doubting the person’s ability to handle their own affairs only serves to anger and put them on the defensive.
4. How to deal with attempts at manipulation
Your loved one may have lost the ability to distinguish between truth and falsehoods, and they may no longer have a sense of morality around lying. These symptoms can be especially difficult for a caregiver to handle as it may feel like a complete change in personality. In fact, a person with dementia may not realize they’re lying.
Manipulation is often the root behavior for trust, control, and security. Manipulative behavior can be used to fulfill one of these needs, and sometimes it’s a cry for help.
Do you notice certain situations trigger this behavior? If so, try to identify the person’s needs and work together to find a solution. Perhaps the trigger is driving. If your loved one wants to drive but isn’t able to, try to find other ways to make them feel independent.
- Separate the behavior from the person, and do not hold it against them
- Set limits when possible, communicate expectations clearly and work together to find a resolution when you’re able to
- Remain aware of your own personal responses. Do you feel angry, hurt, or frustrated? If so, do you act on these emotions around your aging family member? Acting on these emotions can bring more distress to an already stressful situation
- Bring up events to prove or disprove statements
- Use accusatory language such as “you’re lying” or “you’re being manipulative”
- Engage in heated arguments
Dealing with dementia behaviors can quickly wear out a caregiver or family member. If you care for a person with dementia and are feeling resentment, anxiety, or depression, don’t hesitate to seek help.
Contact one of our Sales Directors here for the next steps in helping your loved one.
Source: Merritt Whitley