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Managing Difficult Behavior

Some of the greatest challenges of caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia are the personality and behavior changes that often occur as the disease progresses. These can show up as aggression, frustration, undressing in public, or a range of inappropriate conduct.

It is important to know that your loved one is not acting this way on purpose. The behaviors are a result of the disease. You can best meet these challenges by using creativity, flexibility, patience and compassion. It also helps to not take things personally and try to maintain your sense of humor. Additionally, there are some specific things you can do to help both you and your loved one better cope with their disease.

See a doctor

Some behavior may be caused by something other than dementia. That’s why it’s important to consult a physician if there is a sudden change in behavior. The change may be due to medication side effects, pain, or even an untreated infection. If there is an underlying medical problem, treating that may stop or decrease the behaviors.

Ensure basic needs are met

Unusual behavior may also be explained by the person simply trying to communicate their needs. It may just be your loved one’s way of saying, “Stop, I need something.” If you can figure out what they need, you can often help alleviate the behavior. Check to see if they are: Hungry or thirsty Afraid, tired or in pain Needing to use the toilet Over-stimulated or under-stimulated

Pay attention to your body language

Make sure you maintain eye contact, match their emotions, remain calm, and be mindful of your tone of voice, posture, pace and gestures. Remember that we can change our behavior. Changing our own behavior will often result in a change in our loved one’s behavior.

Develop a routine

People with dementia feel safe when they know what to expect next. Involve them in regular daily tasks that are familiar, such as sweeping, dusting, laundry folding, setting the table — this can help give them a sense of purpose and accomplishment.

Live in “their moment”

Do not try to re-orientate them to the present time, which can lead to increased agitation. Try to accommodate the behavior, not control it. For example, if they insist on sleeping on the floor, place a mattress on the floor to make them more comfortable.

Get support from others

You are not alone. There are many people caring for someone with dementia. Call your local Area Agency on Aging, or the local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. They can help you find online or in-person support groups, organizations and services that can help you.


All Caregiver Resource Center staff conversations are confidential.


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