If your loved one has dementia, you may notice certain changes in their behaviour as a result of the illness. Taking the time to understand how dementia is impacting your loved one and why they are behaving a certain way can help families and carers to cope.
There are many reasons why you may see behavioural changes in a person living with dementia. Behavioural changes may be related to the physical changes in the brain directly as a result of dementia or may be triggered by changes in their environment, deterioration in their health, or the medication that they are taking.
By first understanding the cause of the behavioural change, you can then take steps to help the patient. In addition, if you feel the behaviour has become a problem or notice a significant change in the person’s behaviour, it can be useful to speak to their doctor.
Some of the most common behaviours of people suffering from dementia are below.
Problems with sleeping are common in people with dementia. The person may fall out of a normal sleeping routine, they may sleep more during the day, and they may be awake and restless through the night. This can be the result of them no longer being able to differentiate between night and day, or in some cases, the patient can’t be as active as they are used to and need less sleep as a result. Many people with dementia will sleep more as the illness progresses to the later stages.
This can be a very difficult symptom for carers to deal with, as they have to be well rested in order to look after the person in their care. As such, if you care for someone with dementia, it’s important to plan regular periods of rest and schedule someone else to relieve you so that you can get a break and build up your energy stores.
Hoarding belongings for safekeeping is another common behaviour in dementia. There are a number of reasons that people with dementia experience this behaviour. Hoarding can be the result of the dementia patient feeling isolated, alone or neglected. Memories of the past can also trigger hoarding, for example, if the patient lived with siblings who took their possessions when they were younger. Alternatively, hoarding can also be the result of loss, as the your loved one is losing parts of their lives such as their income, memory and even their meaning for being, so they hoard their possessions to cling on to them. Fear of being robbed is another common experience that causes hoarding.
As a carer, learning the person’s normal hiding places and can help you find missing items quickly. Providing a drawer of odds and ends can help also help to stimulate the person and satisfy their need to be busy. In addition, making sure the person can find their way around can help reduce hoarding, as this can be a trigger for the behaviour.
People with dementia will often repeatedly say the same thing, or ask the same question. They also often become very dependent on the person caring for them and are likely to follow them around, which can be difficult and become irritating for carers.
If this is a common behaviour of the person you are caring for, reminding them that they have already asked the question won’t help them or stop them from asking it again. Instead, try working out the feeling behind the question. For example, if the person keeps asking what they are going to be doing that day, they may feel lost or uncertain in their routine, so trying to respond to that emotion can help. If they are continually asking what time lunch is or what day it is, for example, put a corkboard up with reminders for them. If explaining doesn’t help, distraction may work. Take them for a walk, suggest an activity that they like, or even just simply give them something to do with their hands that will distract their mind.
Wandering can be very concerning for those who are caring for people with dementia. They may do this for a number of reasons, such as excess energy, a loss of memory, boredom, searching for the past, or confusion. To add to the difficulty of this situation, the person with dementia typically cannot communicate as well as they used to and often can’t explain why they are walking seemingly without purpose; or with their failing memory, they may not even remember why.
In order to ensure person stays safe, it’s important to have an action plan in place for those occasions when they wander away from home. Remembering the clothes they are wearing can be helpful if you need to find them. You should also get in touch with family members who may know where they’ve gone, neighbours who may have seen them, and the police. It is also useful to ensure the patient is always carrying a form of identification with their address on it. Dementia identity cards are available free of charge from Dementia Australia.
Caring for someone with dementia and their changing behaviours can be frustrating and extremely difficult. The Dementia Live® course is extremely useful for carers as it immerses you in the experience of living with dementia so that you can gain powerful insights for effectively communicating with your loved one. Get in touch with Brain Sparks for more information.