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Understanding Dementia Behaviors and How to Deal with Them

If a loved one is suffering from Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, they will undoubtedly go through behavioral changes. In fact, dementia affects behavior differently at each stage of the disease, often progressing dramatically in the middle-to-late stages. A patient may become violent and aggressive, both physically and verbally.

However, what you need to understand is that dementia patients are not choosing to act this way. It’s an unfortunate side effect of the disease that is frustrating to deal with for everyone involved.

If you understand the behaviors and tell-tale signs beforehand, you will be more equipped to manage the patient. You’ll also be less likely to take certain aggressive behaviors personally. With that said, here are some common dementia behaviors and how you can manage them.

Aggressive Behavior

This type of behavior is often verbal, manifesting itself in statements such as “I want to go home!” or “I don’t want to eat!” Sometimes it escalates to physical violence. Either way, these behaviors come on seemingly out of nowhere, which is frustrating for everyone.

However, it’s important to understand that there is a cause for the behavior. The patient is either experiencing physical discomfort or is unhappy with their environment. A patient may be in physical pain and be unable to communicate that to you, or they could be tired, hungry, or thirsty.

A patient may also lash out when they are overstimulated by their environment, be that loud noises or too many people around them. Lastly, make sure you aren’t confusing them with complicated instructions.

How to Manage Aggressive Behavior

To manage aggressive behavior, you should first try to determine the cause. Some patients make it obvious, as in cases where they can clearly communicate their needs and wants. But for others, it may be more difficult.

Try to identify what happened before the outburst, as that may have something to do with the cause. You’ll also want to immediately rule out any physical pain that your patient may be experiencing. Once you identify the cause, you can remove it or at least modify it to lessen the stressors.

The main thing you want to keep in mind is that your patient is not choosing to be angry with you, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. It’s out of their control, so try not to take it personally.

Confusion About Place or Time

If you take care of dementia patients in a facility, you’ll hear them ask to go home time and time again. This is a symptom of dementia. Alzheimer’s causes damage to cognitive functioning over time, and this causes memory loss, confusion, and general disorientation.

Patients may become confused as to why they are where they are, forgot where they are all together, or simply demand to go home.

How to Manage Disorientation

The first thing you need to keep in mind is that you can’t reason with someone who has dementia. So, the best course of action is often to say as little as possible, especially in cases where they were moved to a primary care facility. It’s okay to tell “therapeutic lies,” as long as that’s what makes the patient feel safest.

If your loved one still lives at home, presenting them with reminders about where they are can help calm them down. Show them photos and objects in their home that are special to then, and they may feel safe.

Poor Judgment

Some examples of poor judgment as shown by a dementia patient include unfounded accusations, trouble with finances and math, hoarding, and repetition of statements. This is caused by the deterioration of the brain, as previously mentioned, and is not behavior exhibited purposefully.

These types of behaviors are not always obvious and may go unnoticed in the early stages of dementia. It’s important to keep an eye out for any behavioral changes, especially when dementia is in its early stages and isn’t so obvious.

How to Manage Poor Judgement

One telltale sign that things are going awry is unpaid bills. Simply take a look at your loved one's bills and see what the situation is. Or, you could watch them as they try to calculate a tip in a restaurant. If your loved one is tardy with their bills and can’t calculate an appropriate tip, odds are they are suffering from poor judgment.

Encourage them when they are trying their hardest and don’t make them feel any more embarrassment than they already do. Offer to help in small ways without stripping away all of their autonomy, and they will surely appreciate it.


There are many behaviors associated with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia at various stages of the disease, and not every individual will experience the same symptoms and behaviors. Keep in regular contact with your loved one’s healthcare provider and keep them informed of all behavior changes and other symptoms. Your loved one’s healthcare provider may be able to offer more personalized guidance on how to manage these behaviors or refer you to other community resources who can help.

Alzheimer’s support groups can also be helpful for advice and guidance from both professionals and other caregivers who have experienced similar situations. Visit these posts to find local caregiver support groups near you as well as virtual and online support groups you can participate in from anywhere:

 

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