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Handle Dementia-Related Behaviors With Compassion

Strategies to deal with wandering, agitation, sleeplessness and other challenges

By Family Caregiver Alliance | May 7, 2012

Some of the greatest challenges of caring for a loved one with dementia are the personality and behavior changes that often occur.

You can best meet these challenges by using creativity, flexibility, patience and compassion.

It also helps to not take things personally and maintain your sense of humor.

To start, consider these ground rules:

We cannot change the person

The person you are caring for has a brain disorder that shapes who he has become. When you try to control or change his behavior, you’ll most likely be unsuccessful or be met with resistance. It’s important to:

  •     Try to accommodate the behavior, not control the behavior. For example, if the person insists on sleeping on the floor, place a mattress on the floor to make him more comfortable.
  •     Remember that we can change our behavior or the physical environment. Changing our own behavior will often result in a change in our loved one’s behavior.
Check with the doctor first

Behavioral problems may have an underlying medical reason: perhaps the person is in pain or experiencing an adverse side effect from medications. In some cases, like incontinence or hallucinations, there may be some medication or treatment that can assist in managing the problem.

Behavior has a purpose. People with dementia typically cannot tell us what they want or need. They might do something, like take all the clothes out of the closet on a daily basis, and we wonder why. It is very likely that the person is fulfilling a need to be busy and productive. Always consider what need the person might be trying to meet with their behavior—and, when possible, try to accommodate them.

Behavior is triggered

It is important to understand that all behavior is triggered—it doesn’t occur out of the blue. It might be something a person did or said that triggered a behavior or it could be a change in the physical environment. The root to changing be-havior is disrupting the patterns that we create. Try a different approach, or try a different consequence.

What works today, may not tomorrow

The multiple factors that influence troubling behaviors and the natural progression of the disease process means that solutions that are effective today may need to be modified tomorrow—or may no longer work at all. The key to managing difficult behaviors is being creative and flexible in your strategies to address a given issue.

Get support from others

You are not alone—there are many others caring for someone with dementia. Call your local Area Agency on Aging, the local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, a Caregiver Resource Center or one of the groups listed below in Resources to find support groups, organizations and services that can help you. Expect that, like the loved one you are caring for, you will have good days and bad days. Develop strategies for coping with the bad days.

Common behavioral problems and solutions

Dementia affects behavior in different ways at different times depending on the person. Here are some common problems and suggested strategies for comforting the person you care for and keeping him or her safe.

How to deal with dementia-related wandering
Handling dementia-related agitation or paranoia
Tips for managing dementia-related incontinence
How to cope with dementia-related repetitive action
Help someone with dementia sleep better
Make sure adults with dementia are eating right

How to bathe a person with dementia
How to handle troubling dementia behaviors

More: 
10 Tips for connecting to someone with dementia


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