Understanding behavior changes in Alzheimer's and other dementias

One of the most difficult problems to deal with as a caregiver is the sometimes strange or disruptive behaviors that people with dementia develop. They may wander, do certain things repeatedly, or insist on unusual routines or activities.

Some behaviors that seem strange or disturbing may be natural expressions of a person's lifelong habits or patterns. Understanding some of the underlying influences on the behavior may help you deal better with behavior problems. Try to figure out the reason behind the behavior:

  • Think about the person's background, previous life experiences (work and daily routines), and preferences (favorite foods, activities, or places).
  • Think about whether the person's unusual behaviors might be motivated by an urge to continue past activities or habits. Did the person always go to work at a certain time, and does he or she now seem to be more agitated or likely to wander at that time?
  • If you do not know the person well, talk with someone who knew the person before he or she developed the disease.

Once you understand what underlies apparently odd or disruptive behaviors, you will be better able to understand them and respond supportively to the affected person. This can help make things easier for you both. You may find ways to change the person's environment and set up daily routines that make certain behaviors less of a problem. This may also help you avoid having to use medication to control behavior.

Last Updated: November 10, 2008

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