Dementia is a complex and challenging condition that affects millions of people worldwide. Cognitive decline and memory loss are common, but there are also a range of behavioral symptoms that can be distressing for both the person with dementia and their caregivers. It’s important to recognize that many of these behaviors are actually a form of communication and understanding them can lead to better care and quality of life for your loved one living with dementia. In this blog post, we will explore some common behaviors associated with dementia, highlighting how they can be a means of communication and when it might be time to seek help.

  1. Agitation and Aggression

One of the most challenging behaviors in dementia is agitation and aggression. This can include verbal outbursts, restlessness, and even physical aggression. It can be distressing to witness and is often a response to frustration, fear, or discomfort. It’s crucial to identify triggers for these behaviors, such as pain, hunger, medical issues, environmental factors, or even our own communication style.

  1. Sundowning

Sundowning refers to an increase in confusion and agitation that typically occurs in the late afternoon or early evening. While the exact cause of sundowning is not fully understood, it can be worsened by factors such as fatigue, changes in routine, or sensory overload. Caregivers should establish a calming evening routine and try to ensure a comfortable environment during these hours.

  1. Wandering, also called, Walking About

Wandering is a common behavior in dementia, where individuals may leave the home without the caregiver’s knowledge. It can be dangerous if the person becomes disoriented and lost. Wandering can often signify a need for stimulation, exercise, or companionship. Installing alarms can help prevent wandering-related accidents.

  1. Repetitive Behaviors and Speech

Repetition is a common behavior in dementia, with individuals asking the same questions or engaging in the same activities repeatedly. This repetition may be a sign they are trying to make sense of their environment and can provide comfort. Patience and redirection are strategies to manage repetitive behaviors; but they may become so intense that the caregiver will need respite, away from the person.

  1. Hallucinations and Delusions

People with dementia may experience hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t there) and delusions (false beliefs). It is not always clear what the person is communicating with this behavior. Provide reassurance and avoid arguing about the reality of their perceptions. Seek professional guidance if these symptoms become frightening or distressing, as they may indicate a medical unmet need.

  1. Inappropriate Social Behavior

Some individuals with dementia may exhibit socially inappropriate behaviors, such as making inappropriate comments or undressing in public. These behaviors often stem from impaired judgment or a lack of impulse control. Caregivers should handle these situations discreetly and maintain the person’s dignity.

“If a loved one is exhibiting some of these behaviors, it’s important for caregivers to pause and ask themselves a few questions,” said Cheryl Conley, MA, LSW, Social Services Director at MemoryLane Care Services. “Ask if the behavior is really a problem and for whom. For example, if the person is continually rearranging the dining room chairs, and the chairs are sturdy, the flooring is not damaged, and the person seems calm – is this really a problem that needs an intervention? Perhaps not. Consider if the behavior is really a need to communicate a need or a response to an environmental factor, such as a lack of meaningful activity. Then think of ways to address the possible underlying need.”

When to Seek Help

Recognizing when it’s time to seek professional help for dementia-related behaviors is crucial for the well-being of you and your loved one. Here are some signs that may indicate the need for professional intervention:

  • Safety Concerns: If the person’s behavior poses a risk to their own safety or that of others, help should be sought.
  • Severe Agitation or Aggression: If the person’s aggression or agitation becomes unmanageable or escalates, it may require immediate medical evaluation and potential medication adjustments.
  • Dramatic Personality Changes: Sudden and dramatic changes in personality, mood, or behavior may indicate an underlying medical issue or medication side effects.
  • Decline in Physical Health: A significant decline in physical health, including weight loss, dehydration, or neglect of personal hygiene should be addressed promptly.
  • Inability to Perform Activities of Daily Living: If the person with dementia struggles to perform essential daily tasks like eating, bathing, or dressing, professional help, such as home care or dementia care coaching may provide support.
  • Increased Isolation: If the person with dementia withdraws from social activities and isolates themselves, it may indicate the common dementia-related problems of loss of initiative, lack of meaningful activity, or even an underlying emotional distress or depression.

Understanding that the behaviors associated with dementia often serve as a form of communication is essential for providing compassionate care. While it can be challenging to understand what the person is saying with their behaviors, managing these behaviors with patience, empathy, and a person-centered approach can make a significant difference in the lives of individuals with dementia and their caregivers.

Learn more about behaviors common in dementia at our upcoming educational event, “Behaviors: What is the person with dementia trying to communicate?” on September 20 from 6:00 to 7:30 p.m. at MemoryLane Care Services, 2500 N. Reynolds Road, Toledo, OH 43615. The program will also be available online via video conference. For more information or to register, visit the event page or call 419-720-4940.