Managing behaviour for people with dementia means looking beyond the condition and seeing the person

Dementia is a neurodegenerative disorder, causing the person to experience a loss of memory, cognitive function, communication skills, as well as changing their perception of the world around them. This comes with behavioural changes, and often behaviour that can be challenging to manage. Looking at managing behaviour for people with dementia means that we need to understand the person, as well as the underlying cause.

Some behaviour changes can be quite disconcerting for family members and people who know the person, as they can be completely out of character.

Dementia can make the world a scary and confusing place to be and as a result of this, there can be behaviours manifesting from intense emotions, such as anger, and fear.

Many behaviours, especially if challenging to cope with, are often put down to being as a direct result of the dementia, rather than an external source or a personal need. A combination of knowing the person, observing, and asking questions as well as listening to the person will help to determine any causes of the behaviour. It’s important to see beyond the dementia and focus on the person and their environment.

You will be able to manage some behaviours by ensuring that your home is a dementia friendly place to be. Shadows for example, can cause distress for someone with dementia, or too much noise. Some of the things that can bring on ‘challenging’ behaviours are:

  • Noise
  • Lighting
  • Patterns on the floor
  • Lack of contrasting colours at mealtimes
  • Difficulty in communicating
  • Medical needs like pain, sight and hearing

These are things that you can observe and modify in your environment. So, what happens when none of those things appear to be the cause?

Walking for example – what used to be called wandering, is more recently and more appropriately referred to as intentional walking. The walking could stem from boredom, however sometimes an intentional walk can be at seemingly obscure times. If your loved one with dementia is getting up at 2am for example, and leaving the home to go walking, you might find out, by knowing about their life, that they once used to work a night shift. Dementia can take the person back in time, they are in a moment a long time ago. Suddenly returning from that time and back to now, is what causes them confusion and fear.

You may wish to make the home secure so that your loved on with dementia is safe and unable to get out and about in the night.

Another common type of behavioural change can occur and mealtimes. If the colours of food are not contrasting from the plate, the person may have trouble differentiating the food from the plate. The same can be said of having patterned plates as they can cause confusion.

There may be times when a person with dementia is unable to communicate what they need; are they too hot, bored, need the toilet?

Boredom can be highly frustrating and make a person angry, if your loved one with dementia is not involved in any stimulating activities, then some behaviours can more often than not be because of this.

The main changes in behaviour can stem from being bored, feeling threatened, or being in pain or needing medical assistance. The important thing for you to do when managing behaviour with dementia, is to look beyond the dementia itself and see the person and their needs.