Dealing with Dementia Behaviors Compassionately

Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease progressively affect cognitive functions. Unfortunately, difficult behaviors often emerge as cognitive functions decline. It can be tough to figure out exactly how to deal with dementia behaviors, especially if behaviors and moods are changing frequently.

It’s important to be compassionate when dealing with dementia behaviors. Those suffering from the disease aren’t intentionally being difficult; they may be acting from a place of fear or discomfort.

The following are a few common dementia behaviors, along with tips for dealing with these behaviors in a way that preserves dignity and minimizes negative feelings for all involved.

Anger and Aggression

Anger and aggression, sometimes even escalating to violence, are common reactions when a person with dementia feels at a loss of control.

Transitional Care Intervention: In the situation, it’s best to minimize outside noise that may be adding agitation and speak to the person in a calm and clear manner. To prevent aggressive behaviors, it may be helpful to allow the person more independence or to stick to daily routines that he or she enjoys.

Confusion and Paranoia

Confusion and paranoia may occur at any time with dementia, but are very common when a person is moved from one home setting to another, such as a memory care unit or assisted living facility.

Transitional Care Intervention: Setting a new place up with familiar belongings can help to mitigate confusion. Providing visual reminders of the move may help stir memories, using redirection and distraction may help when patients become accusing or paranoid in the moment.

Wandering Behaviors

Attempting to wander is a common dementia behavior, especially for patients that have been moved to a new place.

Transitional Care Intervention: Distracting patients’ eyes away from doors by covering doors with curtains may help to minimize the desire to wander. If wandering behaviors become persistent, installing a security system and providing the patient with ID bracelets and clothing labels can help to ensure safety.

Repetition in Tasks or Statements

Repetition in tasks and statements is extremely common and can become frustrating for caregivers. However, pointing out the repetition can trigger even more difficult dementia behaviors, such as aggression.

Transitional Care Intervention: Since repetition can be triggered by boredom or a need for familiarity, try to pinpoint the cause and make sure that the patient is adequately entertained and reassured. Redirect behaviors by asking the patient for help with tasks or introducing other activities.


Accidents may occur for many reasons. Patients may forget where the bathroom is, have trouble removing clothing to use the restroom, or may be unable to get to the toilet in time.

Transitional Care Intervention: Establishing a routine for using the restroom, providing the patient with easily removable clothing and support products, and making sure the patient can get to the bathroom (and has adequate assistance) can help reduce the occurrence of accidents.

Patients may feel embarrassed and helpless after incontinence incidents, which can trigger more difficult dementia behaviors. If accidents do occur, being sympathetic and helping patients to clean up quickly can prevent the situation from worsening.

Refusal to Perform Activities

Refusing to eat, drink, bath, dress, cooperate with toileting assistance, leave for appointments, and other activities can be a patient’s way of asserting control over some aspects of his or her life.

Transitional Care Intervention: Understanding that these refusals come from a place of frustration and fear, rather than malice may help to deal with these dementia behaviors compassionately.

Accommodating patients by allowing plenty of time for activities and by changing some aspects of the way things are done can help to reassure patients. Cutting foods a certain way, providing a straw, and giving choices regarding which outfit to wear are just a few examples of the many ways that caregivers can accommodate patients to counter refusals of activities.