Care Partner Information Sheet

Dementia - Behaviors

It is common for people with dementia to behave in ways that are hard for the caregiver, such as being angry a lot, pacing, or not wanting to connect with friends and family. Many times these behaviors are not intentional, but instead are the result of what is happening in the brain because of dementia. These behaviors cannot always be prevented. But some behaviors can change or stop if the caregiver can learn why they happen and change how they respond.

Common Behaviors in Dementia
  • Awake and active at night when everyone else is sleeping
  • Thinking people are stealing
  • Getting upset
  • Repeating the same things over
  • Hitting, kicking, or biting
  • Pacing
  • Not understanding what is said
  • Loss of interest, caring or motivation - may seem withdrawn and uncaring
  • Acting sexually
  • Hiding things
  • Rummaging
  • Seeing things that aren't there
  • Doing inappropriate things
  • Wandering

Sometimes these behaviors are caused by things that can be easily fixed. For example, if there is too much noise or activity. These behaviors can also happen if the person feels rushed or hurried to do a task. People with dementia can get frustrated very easily, and it is difficult for them to tell others how they are feeling.

The 3-Step Approach

Sometimes you can prevent behaviors from happening. Other times you can learn how to deal with them when they occur. The 3-step approach tries to figure out why the behaviors are happening so you can respond in a way that helps.

Step 1-Understand the behavior: What was the behavior? What was happening before the behavior happened? What happened right after the behavior?

Step 2-Think of solutions: Can you change the situation? Can you change your response? Did the person need something?

Step 3-Try different responses: Did doing things differently help? What are some other solutions to the problems? Did you reach out for help?

Remember, behaviors can happen for any reason at any time. Learning how to predict and respond to them is important, but taking good care of yourself can also help. When you are feeling good and getting support from others, it will be easier to deal with difficult behaviors when they occur. Find a local support group, seek help from professionals, and talk with your providers about what is happening. Here are some tips for managing difficult behaviors.

Quick Tips for Dealing with Difficult Behaviors
  • Stay calm and be patient. 
  • Do not argue or try to reason. It won't work. 
  • Acknowledge their feelings, reassure them, and help them not to feel pressured.
  • Keep a regular schedule and stick to it.
  • Redirect with things like music, pictures or changing the subject.
  • Do not take it personally. It is nobody's fault. It is the dementia's fault.
  • Get help and talk with others.

Written By: Written by: Kelly A Raach, Alzheimer’s Association—Desert Southwest Chapter