Family Resources Blog - Los Angeles County & Ventura County

How to Handle Common Dementia Behaviors

By Dwight Brown & Dan Nathanson

Common Dementia Behaviors

The first signs of dementia can be a bit disturbing for the loved ones who notice them. It usually starts with minor memory loss, such as forgetting words, names, or what the person just asked. Your senior loved one may seem like themselves for the most part, but may lose things easily or ask the same question multiple times, etc.

Dementia falls under the umbrella of Alzheimer’s disease and refers to the cognitive decline, memory loss, and several other behaviors that impact the ability to have normal function and routine. In advanced stages, it can also pose a safety risk, such as wandering off or getting lost.

Here are a few of the behaviors commonly associated with the onset of dementia:

Confusion
Seniors with dementia may struggle or become frustrated when trying to express thoughts and feelings. They also may not be able to retain new information. Dementia is a progressive disease, so you will likely notice that confusion gets worse over time. In advanced stage dementia, the person may not recognize loved ones, be able to recall their own history, or current year and president.

How should you respond? Typically, it only makes the senior more agitated if you try to convince them they are wrong. For instance, if your parent thinks you are a deceased relative rather than their son or daughter, it may be better to go with the flow and just connect with them emotionally rather than factually.

Accusations
As dementia progresses, it’s common that the person becomes irritable or even aggressive. They may yell at family members or caretakers and accuse them of various things that are irrational.

How should you respond? ALWAYS remember that it’s the disease talking and not a personal attack. It’s easy to get your feelings hurt by dementia patients, but they don’t know what they are doing and will not even remember what they said. Rather than trying to correct or argue with them, just change the subject and redirect the conversation.

Wandering
Dementia patients often begin to wander as the disease progresses. They may get up in the night and not be able to find their way back to bed. Or they may be bored and wander outside, having no idea how to get home. One of the more common behaviors with advanced dementia is living in the past. So, they may have been retired for years but wander outside thinking they need to go to work.

How should you respond? Wandering poses a big safety concern. At this point, you may need to consider around-the-clock supervision to protect your loved one from dangerous situations. If they tend to get bored during the day and start wandering around, find a new way to engage them in meaningful activity.

Sundowning
Sundowning refers to the dementia patient becoming agitated or anxious early in the evening. The end of the day is when they are likely tired or mentally drained. They may have been frustrated that day trying to communicate or express themselves, and by the end of the day, they are just in a heightened state of agitation.

How should you respond? Be aware of when you schedule activities or social gatherings. Also, remain calm yourself. Sundowning will always seem worse if you allow your own emotions to get the better of you. Engage them in relaxing things during the evening hours.

Changes in eating habits
It’s not uncommon for your loved one with dementia to lose some weight. The reason for this is forgetting to eat when they should or limiting their food choices to a handful of snacks. As a result, their nutrition intake suffers from a lack of a healthy diet.

How should you respond? If you notice there is no healthy food in the fridge or unexplained weight loss, it’s time to provide meals and offer beverages more often. You should monitor intake and make sure your loved one really is eating and drinking enough.

Changes in hygiene habits
Dementia patients commonly forget to take care of themselves. They may not look in the mirror or notice their own appearance any longer. It’s not uncommon for them to forget or not want to bathe, brush teeth and hair, or change their clothes.

How should you respond? Remind them gently about their hygiene. Setting a time each day for bathing can be helpful since they respond best to routine. If they refuse to bathe or change clothes, you can try letting a different person suggest these things. Sometimes, they won’t do one activity for you but will do it for someone else.

Dementia can be frustrating to deal with and you will need a thick skin to handle it. Just remember, your care is an act of love.

If managing your senior loved one’s care has become difficult on your own, please contact us today!