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18 Nov 2014

Behaviours in Dementia

Behaviours are a way of communication, particularly for individuals whose verbal communication skills are impaired due to changes in their degenerative brain. Persons with dementia are often in physically good health, however as their dementia advances they are more likely to express their needs with behaviour. Behaviour in dementia may be inward, the person becoming withdrawn and reluctant to participate in activities, and outward, such as challenging behaviours including aggression. Inward behaviours are addressed by increased socialisation, provision of safe environment and psychotherapy. Depression is common in individuals with dementia and can be particularly disabling, as the individual is unable to articulate their symptoms and respond well to psychotherapy.

Challenging behaviours are often a way the person with dementia is trying to communicate with you. The progression of the disease means that the person may no longer be able to verbally communicate, however they are still emotionally conscious and will remain so, until the very end of their life.

The causes of challenging behaviours may include:

  • Stress
  • Inability to communicate (sensory impairment)
  • Difficulty with tasks
  • Unfamiliar surroundings
  • Loud noises, frantic movement
  • Physical discomfort

Creating a calm and soothing environment for an individual suffering from dementia is important. They are still often able to read your body language and may display challenging behaviours due to their inability to process your stress levels. If you are stressed, they can tell and may become distressed themselves. Be mindful of the message you are communicating. If a person has hearing impairment, ensure that they have access to their aids at all times. These little cues can assist the person tremendously and minimise a risk of an outburst.

Managing stress in dementia patients can be achieved through a number of techniques including:

  1. Exercising – going for short walks or participating in group exercise
  2. Meaningful activity – there are a number of activities a person may assist with such as folding clothes, sorting buttons, making cards
  3. Music – soothing music can greatly boost emotional wellbeing and reduce anxiety
  4. Socialising – interacting with others is very important, where possible facilitate 1:1 interactions
  5. Pet therapy – research has shown that pets can provide a source of positive nonverbal communication

Importantly, try to be calm in your approach and speak slowly and clearly. Minimise background noise if possible. Allowing time for effective communication will assist the person and your interaction with them.

Lastly, caregiving for a loved one with dementia can be very demanding and stressful. Looking after yourself and ensuring that you take time out not only improves your own wellbeing but your relationship with a loved one.

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