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IKF Blog
Posted: Monday, December 23, 2019

Gaining a Better Understanding of the Behaviors Behind the Disease

Watching a loved one’s behavior change from the person you once knew into someone you don’t recognize can be unsettling and emotionally painful. Not taking it personal is always the advice but that isn’t easy to do. As people progress further into the disease, the behaviors and responses can greatly impact quality of life. Becoming aware of what to expect and how best to react can make a big difference.

The causes behind the behavior and personality changes

Depending on the area of the brain most affected, as a person continues to lose neurons the behavior will continue to change.  This can include their capacity to stay focused, control impulses or become aggressive. It may influence the ability to follow conversations or to easily become over-stimulated. But behaviors can also change if there are medical issues or as a result from medications taken, so before making the assumption that the basis is dementia, you’ll want to rule out other causes.

Different behaviors and suggested responses

This summary list from the Alzheimer’s Association outlines their recommended responses to the more typical changes you may see in your loved one. It’s critical to understand that it is the disease causing the erratic behaviors, not an intentional act on their part to hurt or frustrate you.

Identify behaviors

The first step is to become aware of the behaviors and what responses may have had positive or negative outcomes. It’s also helpful to remember that these behaviors can be the person’s only way to communicate what they’re feeling.

Examine the behavior

Identify the behavior and take note if it could have been caused by a medication or illness, whether there was a trigger, and what happened when the behavior ended.

Look for solutions

Are the person’s needs being met? Could changing the surroundings bring comfort to the person? Could changing your reaction have an impact?

Try different responses

Try a new response or consider if there are different solutions available and how they might improve the behaviors.

Behaviors may be verbal or physical. The best option is to try and understand what could be causing the anger and find different ways that may prevent it.

How to respond:

Rule out pain as the trigger

Try to identify the cause. What happened right before the behavior?

Focus on the feelings behind the words or actions

Try not to get upset but remain positive, calm and reassuring

Limit the distractions

Try music or other relaxing activities

Shift the focus away from what is causing the aggressive behavior

If the person is in a safe environment, walk away and take a break if needed

Ensure everyone’s safety. 

When you notice your loved one becoming anxious or agitated, take note of the surroundings, time of day and what occurred before.

How to respond:

Check if there is any pain or a possible reaction to medication or an illness

Listen to what may be causing the frustration

Provide reassurance

Involve the person in activities

Decrease over-stimulating distractions or move the person into another location

Find outlets for their energy

When the person no longer recognizes familiar people, places or things, this can be one of the bigger challenges of Alzheimer’s or other dementia diseases. Even common items used daily may lose their meaning.

How to respond:

Stay calm

Use simple explanations

Use photos or other reminders

Instead of scolding, frame any corrections as suggestions

Don’t take it personally

Your loved one may repeat words or actions over and over, such as pacing continually. These behaviors are rarely harmful but can be frustrating for caregivers.

How to respond:

Look if there is a reason or trigger

Focus on the emotion

Turn the behavior into an activity or engage them in another, if possible

Remain calm and gentle

Provide the answer they may be looking for

Use memory aids

When someone’s perception changes, it may cause them to become suspicious and accusatory as they often misinterpret the actions around them.

How to respond:

Don’t argue or try to convince them they’re wrong

Try not to be offended and respond to the feelings behind the suspicions

Offer a simple answer

Shift the focus to another activity

Duplicate items that are often lost

It’s actually very common for those struggling with dementia or Alzheimer’s to wander at some point and can happen at any stage of the disease.

How to respond:

Keep the person active and engaged

Let friends, family and neighbors know that wandering may occur

Make the home safe and secured

They may have trouble sleeping or experience varying changes in their sleep habits

How to respond:

Make the area as comfortable as possible

Keep a regular routine for going to bed, waking up and mealtimes

Limit naps during the day

Exercise or include physical activity daily

Avoid stimulants such as caffeine, alcohol and certain activities in the evening

Talk to a doctor for possible solutions

Keeping the right mindset

When you care for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia, it’s common to feel as if there is little you have power over. When dealing with behavior changes, ruling out medical or medication causes, establishing a predictable routine and identifying and avoiding as many triggers as you can, there is still something you control. Your reaction. After determining when a behavior is dangerous and requires action or is just frustrating, it’s best to stay calm, take a break when needed and try to remember that this behavior is a result of the disease and not directed personally at you.  

Ingleside Memory Support Assisted Living

Our care team is here to help and support both your family and your loved one. We understand the challenge of behaviors that result from Alzheimer’s or dementia and are a great resource if you need help or suggestions.

Call (240) 455-4582 if you have any questions or would like to schedule a personalized tour today.


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