Behaviors of persons living with dementia

The reality of persons living with dementia can cause challenging behavior.

Liz Sabo offers tips for entering into the world of her loved one who is confused about his physical capability—leading him to want to do things that are no longer possible.

Persons living with dementia may have moments when the reality they experience is completely normal. However, as the disease progresses, their perception of reality may change at any time. They may no longer recognize their closest friends and relatives. They can suddenly have an urge to visit a friend who passed away long ago. Or, they can believe they are 50 years younger, physically fit, and able to do what they might have had difficulty accomplishing even then. 

As a caregiver, you need always to show that you respect your loved one even when they are clearly asking for something that is unrealistic and even when what they want to do is not safe. If you can enter their reality with an excuse or a distraction, you may avert a confrontation. 

Here are five tipsthat can be helpful in redirecting your loved one to a safer place. 

  1. Stay calm and radiate confidence. Do not argue with the person—logic does not work. Though your first reaction may be to panic, count to ten. Smile. Make eye contact. If it is appropriate, put your arm around your loved one.
  2. Assess the situation. Is there a trigger for the behavior? Talk about it—find out what is going on. Is he/she bored, upset, or reacting to something real or imagined? Offer to help: “Dad, can I get you something?”
  3. Enter their person’s reality. Divert them from actions that are inappropriate or unsafe by offering an alternative “Let’s feed the cat,” or “I wonder if the mail has come?” or “Let’s find a picture of Grandpa.”
  4. Move to another room; express an idea: “I know! It’s a nice day; let’s go for a walk!” Offer a snack: “I wonder if there are any grapes left from lunch. Let’s look!”
  5. The more engaged he/she is in whatever he/she is doing, the less likely it is that he/she will lapse into inappropriate behavior. 

Finally, keep your sense of humor. Pull out your Joy Plan. If you can find a way to laugh with your loved one you may get past a difficult moment. 


* Paula Spencer Scott, Alzheimer’s Reading Room. “5 Ways to Redirect Someone With Alzheimer’s”