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Dementia care: Managing changes in behaviour

Coping with changed behaviours is one of the most challenging aspects of caring for someone with dementia. 

In this article:


Behaviour and personality

Each person is an individual. People with dementia have their own personality and character traits. However, some common behaviour emerges during the course of dementia.

Carers need to try not to take the behaviour personally. Remind yourself that the behaviour is a manifestation of the condition. Understanding the meaning behind certain behaviours can help you better manage the situation.

Eventually you will find coping strategies that work well for you, mostly through trial and error. 


Understanding someone’s needs

If a person with dementia can’t verbally communicate their needs, unusual behaviours may be more pronounced. It is helpful to try to comprehend a situation from your family member's perspective.

What unmet need could they be trying to communicate? Some behaviour may be an attempt by the person with dementia to relay discomfort or hunger, the need to go to the toilet or for no real reason at all.

Check with your doctor that the behaviour is not related to infection, pain or a medication side effect. Sometimes the person may simply be hot, cold, tired or bored. Dehydration can cause increased confusion so ensure a person gets adequate fluids. 


Dementia behaviour and triggers 

Most changes in behaviour have triggers. Triggers influence or cause the behaviour. These triggers will be influenced by many factors such as the individual's past experience, culture, previous roles and relationships.

Past memories and associations can trigger behavioural outbursts that can often be misinterpreted as bad behaviour.

Once you have identified the triggers you can begin to think of ways to minimise the exposure to situations that may provoke or influence the behaviour. 


Dementia behaviour and effective communication 

Communicating with a person with dementia can be frustrating. Make sure you state your message clearly using a reassuring tone. Repeat the message using simple sentences breaking down tasks into steps.

If the person becomes upset or anxious, distract their attention or change the subject.

Think about how your own feelings and actions may be influencing the behaviour. How are your own actions and feelings contributing to the problem? Are you tired and rushing to get a job done?  


Dementia behaviour and the physical environment 

Examine all the possible physical factors influencing the behaviour. Avoid over stimulating the person with dementia by minimising noise and distraction. Ensure hearing aids are worn along with appropriate glasses.

An unfamiliar environment or person can cause anxiety and confusion. Try and be consistent with routine, keep tasks simple and know someone's preferences. 


Dementia behaviour and getting help 

You may learn new ways of managing behaviour by talking with other carers in similar circumstances. Some behaviour can be particularly irritating or stressful. Remember to take a break.

Find out what services can help. Organising respite care, a trip to an activity centre or someone to take over for even a day a week will make you feel refreshed. 


Dementia behaviour and making a care plan

To establish if behaviour is a one off or a recurring pattern is emerging, it can help to keep a care plan. Start by recording any behaviour. What is happening at the time of the behaviour? What actions do you take to settle the person with dementia? As soon as you come up with an effective care plan, share it with other family members.

Inform any formal carers who help look after the person with dementia. They will want to know all they can about a person with dementia and will appreciate any advice you can give. It will help to be consistent in your approach. 


Helpful resources

  •  Ring the National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500 to talk to a counsellor at Alzheimer's Australia.
  •  Contact The Dementia Behaviour Management Advisory Services (DBMAS) on 1800 699 799 24 hours a day. A national telephone line for carers or family concerned about the behaviour of people with dementia.
  •  Visit Alzheimer's Australia for information about dementia and  behaviour changes.


Related articles


Alzheimer's Society UK
Unusual behaviour
Accessed 15/09/11


N.M. GURURAJ wrote 2 years 2 weeks ago
This is about my father who will by 97 by this August. He suffers from memory loss. He remembers things of distant past; but forgets all recent events. Remembers his grand parents; but has forgotten his own grand children and other close relatives. He keeps repeating certain things endlessly, almost at a frequency of a few minutes between each utterance and keeps harping on the same point over and over again. He refuses to accept anything logical and adamantly holds on to his own point though absurd. At times he behaves rather inappropriately in front of visitors, which is quite embarrassing. He claims he has visited places where he had never been to. For instances, he says he has been to Japan, China, Australia, US and many other places within the country that he has never visited. Any new place that you take him, he claims he has been there before. He does this without fail. He makes an elaborate story of his imaginary travels and tells that practically everyday. We wonder if it is hallucination or manifestation of ego or unsatisfied dreams. But these unending, boastful travelogues are his daily routine. He is terribly fond of boasting. He claims he knows everyone from Hitler to Churchill. He claims he has seen the whole world, though he hasn't stepped out of the country. He hasn't been inside a plane. He is terribly fond of eating and constantly demands food. Now, is this is part of dementia? Can it be cured to some extent by medicine or counselling considerng his age. He is alright physically. Kindly advise.
Emma Hamilton wrote 2 years 2 weeks ago Aged care nurse
Hallucinations and delusions, losing one's inhibitions, repeating the same thing over and over sound like symptoms of dementia. But there are many different types of dementia and it would be worth having a medical check up by a GP accompanied by someone close to him. Personality changes are common in people with certain dementias too so it is worth mentioning these changes to a doctor.
Madhav Lamichhane wrote 3 years 30 weeks ago
Dear Sir/Madam, Wtih respect, I would like to request you to provide answer of the following question. I need answer of the following question, if you don't mind, could you answer of the following question? 1)How do you minimise distraction in the environment when communicating with a person with dementia? Please give examples. 2)What type of activities would you arrange for a person with dementia? 3) What types of activities are included in daily activities for a person with dementia? Please give examples 4) How is challenging behaviour displayed? Please give 4 examples and briefly explain each example
Emma Hamilton wrote 3 years 46 weeks ago Aged care nurse
Thanks Tim for notifying us about the changes to the Dementia Behaviour Advisory Service! It's so important for people to know that they can contact help when they need it. Emma
Tim Wallace wrote 3 years 47 weeks ago
The National Dementia Behaviour Advisory Service ceased operation in 2007 and has been replaced by the Dementia Behaviour Management Advisory Services (DBMAS). DBMAS is a national service that can be contacted 24 hours a day on 1800 699 799.
symptoms of dementia wrote 3 years 48 weeks ago
Delirium and dementia are the most common causes of mental imbalance, the inability to acquire, retain, and use knowledge properly. Delirium begins suddenly, causes fluctuations in mental function, and is usually reversible. Dementia begins gradually, is slowly progressive, and is usually irreversible. Patients with dementia are at high risk of delirium and may get both. Try assigning the same caregivers to patients. Schedule personal care activities and treatments at the same times, and perform them in the same way each day. Avoid making changes to the patient's rooms and common areas.

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