Strategies for Dementia-Related Behavioral Problems

When your loved one doesn’t act the way you want them to, or the way you are used to, it can be frustrating, upsetting, or confusing. It is important not to blame your loved one or react in a way to punish them, as this won’t help the situation and will likely make it worse. Rather, take a few moments to try to understand where this behavior is coming from, and then proceed to the following section on using effective strategies.

Remember! Your loved one’s ability to control their behavior is compromised, while the people they interact with have more control.

Read on for some examples of explanations which may cause your loved one to behave the way they do. Also remember that your behavior has a profound impact on your loved one. Check your body language, facial expression, tone of voice, and mannerism first to make sure they are in line with the message you hope to communicate to your loved one.

Symptoms Possible Causes Suggested Strategies
Wandering Thirst
The need to “look” for someone or something
Keep an eye on your loved one, do not leave your loved one unattended, lock doors, invest in id bracelets and/or tracking devices
Incontinence Decrease in bladder and bowel control
Not knowing where the bathroom is or how to use it
Move your loved one’s bedroom closer to the bathroom, take regular scheduled bathroom breaks, speak to your doctor about medication, use diapers and other aids
Repetition only remembering certain things well
Forgetting that they already said a certain phrase or sentence
Seeking a sense of familiarity
Allow your loved one to participate in repetitive activities if they seem to comfort your loved one and do not cause harm. If they do, try redirecting your loved one’s attention to a harmless or useful activity.
Aggressive Behavior Something that upset them
General defensive mechanisms
Break down tasks into smaller tasks.
Take your loved one to a quieter area.
Give your loved one a say in the situation.
Sleep Disturbances Changes in behavior and routine
Changes in memory
Bio-chemical changes
Have your loved one go to bed and get out of bed at the same times each day.
Use curtains to block light.
Sound or white noise machines may also be helpful.
Sundowning Confusion about time of day
Use curtains
Turn lights on inside.
Hoarding Control
Keeping things where they once were
Small stockpiles are harmless; intervene only if the behavior is destructive or excessive.
Keep potential “new’ hiding places out of the way or locked.
Refusing help Mistrust
Do not tell your loved one about potentially worrying events, such as a trip to the doctor, until necessary.

Remember that this list isn’t comprehensive, but it should provide you with a general idea of things that could be going on with your loved one, and the effects it has on their emotions.

As with the Strategies for Coping with Emotional Problems table, you may even be able to come up with some additional explanations and new reasons to cope with them that are more personal to you and your loved one’s unique situation.