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Behavior Changes with Dementia: Coping as a Caregiver

We often have family members ask us about personality changes when mom or dad is diagnosed with dementia. They will say, “I expected the memory loss, but now mom is acting strange in other ways.” With the heavy focus on memory and dementia, other behavioral aspects of dementia are often pushed aside. Yet they are important to understand as you strive to gain a better understanding of each behavioral change and what lies beneath it.

First of all you should know that you are not alone in your confusion and anxiety over unexpected changes in mom’s or dad’s personality. You should also know that an important part of dealing with these changes is to understand why they occur.

According to the Weill Institute for Neurosciences’ Memory and Aging Center, as an individual loses neuron cells, behavioral changes will occur. What the behavior is will depend on which part of the brain experiencing cell loss. As an example, the frontal lobes of our brains control impulses. When a person begins to lose frontal lobe neural cells, he or she may begin to act rudely, displaying a lack of sensitivity.

Other things can also impact behavior for someone with dementia. We all know the feeling of losing our keys or forgetting where we put our wallets. We temporarily become angry with our own forgetfulness. When a person with Alzheimer’s forgets things, however, that anger is intensified out of proportion. This is often due to the confusion and anxiety associated with feeling disconnected to conversations and the world around them.

Medical issues can also impact behavior for someone challenged by dementia. Because they may not be able to properly describe the pain, frustration sets in causing them to act out in an angry manner they wouldn’t normally exhibit.

If you are caring for a loved one with dementia, these behavioral changes can seem overwhelming as you struggle to find ways of interpreting the behavior and ways to cope effectively with it. Here are a few tips from the Memory and Aging Center to help:

  1. Create a daily routine. Structure and routine can be a great source of comfort for individuals with dementia. Having a routine will help keep distractions to a minimum.
  2. Attempt to identify what might be causing the behavior. Look for triggers that occurred before the display of anger or other changed behavior. Finding patterns can be helpful in modifying the environment or routine to avoid these triggers.
  3. Try to remain calm. Of course this is easier said than done. It is important, however, to not act in ways that might contribute to an escalation of the behavior. Anger control is possible, with practice.
  4. Work towards an attitude of acceptance. Keep in mind that these personality changes are the result of underlying issues and not a choice of the individual.
  5. Reach out to other caregivers. Support groups are essential for caregivers. You can unload your feelings in an environment that is safe and caring. Anthem Memory Care communities have monthly support groups, conducted by professionals.

Mood swings, anger, seemingly outlandish behavior changes; all are part of this devastating illness. Armed with information, resources and support, however, you can find new ways of coping that enable you to continue to effectively engage with your loved one.