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Managing Behavioral Changes in Dementia

Aged Care

Updated 25-01-2024

Managing Behavioral Changes in Dementia

Dementia is a progressive neurological condition that affects millions of individuals across the globe, with a significant impact on Australian communities. Among the most challenging aspects of dementia are the behavioral changes that often accompany the decline in cognitive function. These changes can be distressing for both the individual with dementia and their loved ones, caregivers, and healthcare professionals involved in their care. Understanding and managing these behavioral changes is crucial for promoting a high quality of life and ensuring the well-being of all parties involved. Here, we delve into strategies and approaches to effectively manage behavioral changes associated with dementia.

Recognising Behavioral Changes in Dementia

Behavioral changes in dementia can manifest in various forms, ranging from agitation, aggression, and restlessness to apathy, depression, and social withdrawal. Recognising these changes early is paramount in addressing them effectively. It's not uncommon for individuals with dementia to exhibit:

  • Repetitive questioning or behaviours
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Wandering or pacing
  • Verbal or physical aggression
  • Delusions and paranoia

Each symptom requires a nuanced understanding of the underlying causes and triggers to manage effectively.

Assessing the Root Causes of Behavioral Changes

Prior to managing the behavioural alterations, an initial assessment to identify potential triggers or causes is essential. This can involve:

  • Pain or physical discomfort
  • Environmental factors such as noise, light, or lack of routine
  • Emotional stress or psychological distress
  • Communication difficulties
  • Medication effects or interactions

An in-depth assessment with healthcare professionals can illuminate the origins of behavioural shifts, thereby providing a guide towards the most appropriate interventions.

Personalised Care Planning

When addressing behavioral issues in dementia, a one-size-fits-all approach is generally ineffective. Personalised care plans are crucial and should take into account the individual's:

  • Personal history and background
  • Preferences, dislikes, and customary routines
  • Physical health and current abilities
  • Environmental factors and social context

Care plans should be developed collaboratively with the person with dementia (as much as possible), family members, and healthcare professionals.

Non-Pharmacological Interventions

Non-pharmacological strategies are often the first line of defence in managing behavioural changes. Such strategies include:

Environmental Modifications

Creating a calm, safe, and supportive environment can help prevent or reduce behavioural issues. This may involve:

  • Simplifying the layout of the living space to reduce confusion and falls
  • Using visual cues and signage to assist with navigation
  • Ensuring adequate lighting and minimising noise

Therapeutic Activities

Engaging the individual with dementia in activities that are meaningful to them can promote wellbeing and reduce problematic behaviors. Activities might include:

  • Music therapy, which can have a soothing effect and trigger positive memories
  • Art therapy, allowing non-verbal expression of emotions
  • Gardening or pet therapy, which can provide comfort and a sense of purpose

Behavioural Therapies

Behavioural therapies can include:

  • Cognitive-behavioural techniques to manage distress
  • Validation therapy, which involves acknowledging and empathising with the person's feelings
  • Reality orientation, helping the individual maintain awareness of their surroundings

Medication Management

Sometimes, medications may be required to manage behavioural symptoms in dementia. However, this should be considered only when non-pharmacological approaches have been insufficient, and should always be regularly reviewed due to potential side effects. Antipsychotic medication can be utilised in extreme cases of agitation or aggression but under strict medical supervision.

Support for Caregivers

Caregivers play a vital role in managing behavioral changes in dementia. Providing them with education, resources, and support is critical. This might include:

  • Caregiver training courses on dementia care strategies
  • Support groups for emotional support and advice
  • Respite care services to allow caregivers to rest and recharge


Managing behavioral changes in dementia is a complex and often challenging journey that requires patience, understanding, and a tailored approach. By focusing on personalised interventions, employing non-pharmacological therapies, considering medication when necessary, and supporting caregivers, we can improve the quality of life for those living with dementia. It is a collaborative effort that underscores the importance of comprehensive and empathetic care in the lives of individuals affected by this condition.

About the Author

Olivia is a seasoned professional with an extensive career spanning the Aged Care sector, bringing decades of experience to her role. Her comprehensive understanding of Aged Care services and practices is a testament to her dedication. Olivia’s gratitude extends to those who have generously shared their knowledge and insights with her over the years, contributing to her wealth of expertise.

Olivia’s articles reflect her commitment to practical and informative content. They skillfully combine her industry know-how with real-world insights, providing valuable resources for navigating the complexities of the Aged Care sector. Olivia stands as a reliable advocate for delivering compassionate and effective care to elderly individuals, offering her support not only to fellow care workers and professionals but also to those seeking to gain a deeper understanding of the sector.

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