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How to Understand and Manage Dementia Behaviors: A Comprehensive Guide

How to understand and manage challenging dementia behaviors

Learning about dementia behaviors reduces caregiving stress

Alzheimer’s disease and dementia inevitably cause changes in behavior as the disease progresses.

Your older adult might become angry, get anxious, or have hallucinations. It might seem like they’re acting inappropriately, childishly, or impulsively.

For caregivers, these unpredictable changes add stress to an already tough job.

Understanding these dementia behaviors and their causes helps you deal with them more effectively and reduces uncertainty and stress.

We found a comprehensive free guide from the Lewy Body Dementia Association that explains common behavioral symptoms of dementia and shares helpful tips for reducing and managing challenging dementia behaviors.

These tips apply to all types of dementia, not just Lewy Body. Using this advice helps improve quality of life for the person with dementia and for you.

We highlight their essential dementia care tips and give a brief overview of the topics covered in the guide and how these suggestions make caring for someone with dementia a little easier.


Essential dementia care tips

Because their ability to express themselves declines, people with dementia often unintentionally use behavior as a way to communicate.

When you observe a behavior, ask yourself why they might be acting this way and if there could be a cause or trigger. That helps you find ways to reduce or manage the behavior.

It’s important to remember that you can’t use reason and logic to convince someone with dementia not to behave a certain way. Instead, find ways to decrease the intensity or frequency of the behavior.

Try these approaches:

  1. Try not to get angry or upset or take their behavior personally. They’re not acting this way on purpose.

  2. Speak calmly and softly.

  3. If the behavior is aggressive, back away and give them space. Then, approach calmly and don’t argue.

  4. Think about potential causes for the behavior. Are they tired, hungry, in pain, frustrated, lonely, or bored? Could it be a medication side effect?

  5. Respond to the emotion, not the behavior, and avoid using reason or logic to explain.

Validate, join, and distract

An effective method for managing a challenging behavior is to validate, join, and distract.

Validate the emotion behind their actions, join in what they’re doing, and then use distraction to redirect them to the actions you’d prefer them take.

(Get more specific tips and examples of these techniques directly from the guide itself.)

Free guide helps reduce and manage challenging dementia behaviors

The Lewy Body Dementia Association’s guide has plenty of practical tips and suggestions for reducing and managing challenging dementia behaviors.

Here, we share summaries of how each topic helps you and your older adult cope with common dementia symptoms.

Refer to the guide (print or save it here) for specific, detailed suggestions that you can use in everyday life.

1. Using routines – page 2

In the dementia brain, habits are a type of memory that tends to remain intact longer.

Creating and sticking a routine means that your older adult will do things based on habit and won’t have to think about what to do next – it becomes automatic.

Using habit memory often means that your older adult can participate in meaningful or purposeful activities for longer.

A routine might include eating breakfast before getting dressed, sitting in the same recliner in the living room each morning, attending an adult day program in the afternoon, and taking a bath in the evening.

Get tips on how to create and maintain helpful routines.


2. Communicating effectively with the person who has dementia – page 4

As their dementia progresses, your older adult’s ability to communicate will decline. Understanding how the disease affects them helps you communicate as effectively as possible for as long as possible.

Even when your older adult can’t respond in the way they used to, being able to communicate with them helps keep them engaged in life for as long as possible.

Get tips on how to improve communications with your older adult.

3. Wandering – page 6

People with dementia often walk or pace aimlessly at some point during the disease. It can happen indoors or outdoors where they’re likely to get lost or injured.

This behavior could be caused by memory loss and disorientation or it could be because of curiosity, restlessness, boredom, fear, loneliness, or even a basic need like hunger or thirst.

Get tips on how to reduce or manage someone’s tendency to wander so you can to keep them safe.

4. Preventing or defusing aggression or catastrophic reactions – page 8

When someone with dementia gets frustrated, scared, or can’t communicate, they might become irritable or angry. That could lead to an extreme outburst.

A variety of factors could cause this, like loud noises, too many questions, feeling insecure, feeling left out, small accidents, being reprimanded, arguing, a tense or irritable caregiver, or tasks that are too difficult.

Get tips on how to prevent or reduce these emotional blow-ups.

5. Benefits of exercise for people with dementia – page 9

There are many well-documented benefits of exercise for people with dementia. It can also reduce challenging behaviors and make caregiving easier.

Get tips on how to help your older adult get started with exercise and incorporate it into their daily routine.

6. Managing sleep problems – page 10

Many people with dementia have problems with sleep. In fact, sleep problems are one reason people with dementia end up in assisted living or nursing homes.

Someone with dementia might also experience something called sundowning. It’s when the person gets increasingly agitated, confused, and restless starting in late afternoon or early evening and continuing through the night.

Get tips on how to reduce and manage evening and nighttime agitation.

7. Smoothing the transition on moving day – page 12

Moving from one place to another means changes in routine and an unfamiliar environment. This can be especially stressful to someone with dementia.

Get tips on how to make transitioning to a new home or a care community as comfortable and easy as possible for your older adult.

8. Finding in-home caregivers – page 13

Caregiving is a tough and unrelenting job. Getting help from others is essential for protecting your own health and well-being.

Whether you find volunteers or in-home caregivers, it’s important to find help that allows you to take breaks and share the workload.

Get tips on figuring out what type of help is needed and how to find available options in your community.

9. Care for the caregiver – page 15

Taking care of your own health and well-being means that you’ll be able to sustain caregiving in the long run.

Get tips on how to take care of yourself while you’re caring for your older adult.

10. Support groups: should I join one? – page 16

Caring for someone with dementia can be overwhelming, exhausting, and all-consuming.

On top of that, caregiving brings up strong emotions like anger, guilt, frustration, discouragement, worry, grief, isolation, and more.

A caregiver support group gives you the chance to speak with people in similar situations, vent frustrations, and find out about tried-and-tested tips and helpful resources.

Find out more about the benefits of caregiver support groups and how to find one near you.

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By DailyCaring Editorial Team

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