Understanding Dementia Behavior Changes [Common Behaviors + FAQs]
This progression can impact the ability to perform daily activities, ultimately requiring comprehensive care and support.
We’ll walk you through the most common dementia behavior changes, explain how to manage them as a caregiver and share the services we offer for dementia patients at Always Best Care Senior Services.
How Does Dementia Change Behavior?
Dementia causes an individual to experience neurodegeneration — a condition in which the brain’s neurons become damaged and eventually die.
While the form of dementia differs depending on the brain regions and the types of neurons affected, neurodegeneration can lead to behavior changes.
Alzheimer’s disease, for example, primarily affects the hippocampus and entorhinal cortex, leading to memory loss as an early symptom. On the other hand, frontotemporal dementia targets the frontal and temporal lobes, affecting the individual’s behavior and language.
Behavior changes in dementia occur because the individual is struggling to make sense of an increasingly confusing world. Their behavior can also be exacerbated by physical discomfort, environmental changes, or other health issues.
10 Common Behaviors of Dementia
Find the 10 most common dementia-related behaviors below and how each behavior can affect the individual suffering from the condition.
Apathy is characterized by a lack of interest, enthusiasm, or concern in activities, relationships, or life events that may have been important to the individual in the past.
This common behavior of dementia can result in increased isolation and cognitive decline, due to the lack of social interactions and activities.
Depression is characterized by a persistent feeling of sadness, hopelessness, and loss of interest in the individual’s previous hobbies.
This behavior can result in a significant decline in social and occupational functioning.
Anxiety is characterized by feelings of unease, worry, and fear that can be mild (occurring suddenly in moments of heightened stress) or severe (lasting for months without relief).
This behavior can result in shortness of breath, chest pain, palpitations, and a wide range of other physical symptoms, such as digestive problems.
Irritability is characterized by a heightened sensitivity to stimuli and feelings of being annoyed, frustrated, or angry more easily than usual.
This common dementia behavior can have a negative impact on interpersonal relationships and the individual’s overall well-being.
Agitation is characterized by a state of increased restlessness and nervousness, often accompanied by impulsive or disruptive behaviors, such as pacing, hand-wringing, or excessive talking.
This behavior can result in poor decision-making and confrontational or aggressive actions.
Hallucinations are characterized by false sensory experiences that can involve any of the five senses — vision, hearing, smell, taste, or touch. Chemical reactions or abnormalities in the brain can cause hallucinations.
Hallucinations can result in confusion, fear, or distress, depending on the nature of the hallucinatory experience. In some cases, hallucinations may lead to impaired judgment or risky behaviors, as the individual may respond to the hallucinated voices or images as if they were real.
Paranoia is characterized by an excessive or irrational sense of mistrust or suspicion of others, often leading to a belief that others are plotting harm against them.
This common dementia behavior can result in obsessive thoughts, hypervigilance, social withdrawal, and delusional beliefs.
Disinhibition is characterized by the lack of inhibitory control, causing the individual to stop following social rules and norms.
This behavior can result in aggressive outbursts and misconduct.
Wandering refers to walking away or getting lost, often driven by confusion, disorientation, or unmet needs.
This behavior can result in individuals getting lost or encountering dangerous situations.
Incontinence is characterized by the involuntary loss of bladder or bowel control. Dementia patients can experience incontinence due to a decline in cognitive function, which can make it difficult to recognize the need to use the bathroom on time.
This behavior can result in embarrassment or social isolation.
How To Manage Dementia Behavior Changes
Managing dementia behavior changes requires a compassionate and patient approach, as well as a thorough understanding of your loved one’s triggers and needs.
As a caregiver, here’s how you can help:
- Lock doors: Consider installing door alarms to prevent wandering.
- Use a tracking device: Utilize personal emergency response systems with GPS tracking to help locate your loved one quickly if they wander off.
- Establish a nighttime routine: A daily nighttime routine can help dementia patients regulate their internal circadian rhythms, making it easier for them to fall asleep. According to the Sleep Foundation, adults who are 65 years of age (or older) need to go to sleep at around 7 p.m. or 8 p.m.
- Remove electronic devices before bedtime: Electronic devices, such as phones and tablets, can disrupt sleep patterns, as the blue light emitted by the screens can interfere with the production of melatonin — the sleep hormone the brain produces. Electronic devices can also stimulate the brain, making it difficult for dementia patients to wind down into a restful sleep.
- Encourage your loved one to go to the bathroom every few hours: Dementia patients can experience incontinence, as they may not always recognize or be able to communicate their need to go to the bathroom. Remind your loved one to go regularly, even if they don’t feel the urge.
- Identify triggers: Understanding what causes dementia behaviors can help you create coping strategies to provide better care. For example, if your loved one resists taking a bath, play calming music as a distraction.
- Utilize therapeutic interventions: Take advantage of therapeutic interventions, such as pet therapy, music therapy, and cognitive simulation therapy (CST), to encourage thinking and manage dementia behavior changes.
- Listen to your loved one: Lend an ear to your loved one to understand their needs, as they may express discomfort, preferences or emotions in ways that are not immediately obvious. For example, a sudden change in mood could be their way of letting you know they are uncomfortable in a specific situation.
- Understand your loved one’s medications: Consult with your loved one’s doctor to understand the medications they’re taking, and the possible side effects. For example, donepezil , which is used to treat mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease, can cause chest pains and drowsiness.
- Talk to your loved one’s physician: Schedule an evaluation with a healthcare provider, as sudden behavior changes can be a sign of other health issues like infections, which can aggravate dementia symptoms.
- Place familiar objects in your loved one’s room: If your loved one moves to a care facility, bring along their favorite music or photo album, to help ease the transition of moving to an unfamiliar environment.
Find Support for Your Loved One with Dementia at Always Best Care
Always Best Care Senior Services was founded to make it easier for caregivers to find the best care for their loved ones.
With services spanning across more than 225 territories, we focus on giving your loved one personalized care and attention to help keep them safe and comfortable.
At Always Best Care, our services include:
- Respite care: We offer short-term care for your loved one, so you can rest, spend time with other family members, or run errands.
- In-home care services: We provide services at home, such as round-the-clock care, escort to activities, meal prep, companionship, toileting and more, to ensure your loved one is comfortable.
- Skilled home health care: We create custom care plans for special needs or recovery. This includes managing long-term illnesses, along with medication teaching and management. This service is available at select locations.
- Specialized home care: We closely watch your loved one’s health using advanced technology and care methods, such as remote patient monitoring and a balance tracking system.
- Senior living referral services: We help you choose the best living situation for your loved one if they need to live away from home, including facilities that offer emergency care, medical help, cleaning services, and regular activities.
- Veterans assistance program: We help veterans get the financial help they need for care, while making sure they’re treated with the respect they deserve.
FAQs About Dementia Behaviors
Have more dementia-related questions we didn’t cover? Find answers below.
What are the first signs of behavior changes in dementia patients?
The first signs of behavior changes in dementia patients can include increased irritability, apathy, or withdrawal from social activities that they once enjoyed.
They might become more passive, lose interest in hobbies, or show less enthusiasm for family events. Some individuals may also exhibit heightened anxiety or depression, and in some cases, they may become more aggressive or suspicious of others.
What are the triggers for dementia behavior?
Triggers for dementia behavior changes can include both internal and external factors.
Internally, physical discomfort such as pain or hunger, emotional states like anxiety or fear, and medication side effects can contribute to behavioral changes.
Externally, environmental conditions like noise or moving to a new environment can create confusion or disorientation.
Does a person’s true personality come out with dementia?
No, an individual’s true personality doesn’t come out if they develop dementia. The changes in behavior and personality seen in dementia patients are usually the result of neurodegeneration.
It’s important to understand that dementia can drastically alter an individual’s thought processes, emotional responses, and behaviors. For example, those who were once outgoing may become introverted, while those who were previously calm can become agitated or aggressive.