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Dementia: Understanding Behaviour Changes


One of the most difficult problems to deal with as a caregiver is the sometimes strange or disruptive behaviours that people with dementia develop. They may wander, do certain things repeatedly, or insist on unusual routines or activities.

Some behaviours that seem strange or disturbing may be natural expressions of a person's lifelong habits or patterns. Understanding some of the influences on the behaviour may help you deal better with behaviour problems. Try to figure out the reason behind the behaviour:

  • Think about the person's background, previous life experiences (work and daily routines), and preferences (favourite foods, activities, or places).
  • Think about whether the person's unusual behaviours might be motivated by an urge to continue past activities or habits. Did the person always go to work at a certain time, and does he or she now seem to be more agitated or likely to wander at that time?
  • If you do not know the person well, talk with someone who knew the person before he or she developed the disease.
  • Is the person in pain? Pain can be a trigger for changes in behaviour.
  • Could the person have a urinary tract infection (UTI)? If behaviour changes quickly and is quite different from normal, consider getting the person tested for this problem. After being treated for a UTI, many people return to their usual behaviours.

After you know more about what underlies apparently odd or disruptive behaviours, you will be better able to understand them and respond in a supportive way to the affected person. This can help make things easier for you both. You may find ways to change the person's environment and set up daily routines that make certain behaviours less of a problem. This may also help you avoid having to use medicine to control behaviour.


Current as of: October 20, 2022

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Anne C. Poinier MD - Internal Medicine
Brian D. O'Brien MD - Internal Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Myron F. Weiner MD - Psychiatry, Neurology