Some of the greatest challenges of caring for someone with dementia are the personality and behavior changes that often occur.  You can best meet these challenges by using creativity, flexibility, patience, and compassion.  It also helps to not take things personally and maintain your sense of humor.

To start, consider these ground rules:

We cannot change the person.  The person you are caring for has a brain disorder that shapes who they have become.  When you try to control or change their behavior, you will most likely be unsuccessful or be met with resistance.  It is important to:

  • Try to accommodate the behavior, not control the behavior. 
  • Remember that we can change our behavior or the physical environment. Changing our behavior will often result in a change in the person’s behavior.

Check with the doctor first.  Behavioral problems may have an underlying medical reason: perhaps the person is in pain or experiencing an adverse side effect from medications.  In some cases, like incontinence or hallucinations, there may be some medication or treatment that can assist in managing the problem.

Behavior has a purpose.  People with dementia typically cannot tell you what they want or need.  They might do something, like take all the clothes out of the closet on a daily basis, and we wonder why.  It is very likely that the person is fulfilling a need to be busy and productive.  Always consider what need the person might be trying to meet with their behavior—and, when possible, try to accommodate them.

Behavior is triggered.  It is important to understand that all behavior is triggered—it occurs for a reason.  It might be something a person did or said that triggered a behavior, or it could be a change in the physical environment.  The root to changing behavior is disrupting the patterns that we create.  Try a different approach, or try a different consequence.

What works today may not work tomorrow.  The multiple factors that influence troubling behaviors, and the natural progression of the disease process, mean that solutions that are effective today may need to be modified tomorrow—or may no longer work at all.  The key to managing difficult behaviors is being creative and flexible in your strategies to address a given issue.

Get support from others.  You are not alone—there are many others caring for someone with dementia.  Expect that, like the person you are caring for, you will have good days and bad days.  Develop strategies for coping with the bad days.  Support each other in your area.

Content From Family Caregiver Alliance