“My mother is driving me crazy! Sometimes she is pleasant and calm, and other times, she can be so nasty. I am at my wit’s end with her outbursts and name calling. Is there anything I can do to make her stop being so mean to me?” – Marge from Westfield


A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or dementia for your senior is never welcome news, but what makes this condition particularly challenging and emotional for family, friends, and caregivers are the negative dementia behaviors that a senior may exhibit. These behaviors can manifest in several different ways, but regardless of their cause, the result can be a loss of patience and increase in frustration, anger, or sadness for those who provide care for the elderly individual. The more you understand about these behaviors, the better you can accept and deal with them while maintaining your relationship with your loved one.

Unintended Consequences

What exactly are negative dementia behaviors? Here is a list of some of the more common ones that may ring an all-too-familiar bell with you.

  • Anger and aggression, which can include verbal signs, such as shouting and name calling, as well as physical ones, including hitting and pushing
  • Anxiety and agitation, signs of which may be hand-wringing, pacing, paranoia, and frustration
  • Confusion and forgetfulness, which may include repeating stories, not recognizing people, surroundings, or objects, and expressive aphasia
  • Wandering or getting lost, especially if in a facility, when a senior may walk away without the knowledge of a caregiver
  • Sleep problems and sundowning, which can lead to daytime drowsiness or indicate a need for sleep apnea treatment

Your loved one may have only a few of these behaviors or several more of them as the dementia progresses. It may even seem as if the family member you love has turned into someone else.

Positive Actions

Pay attention to any negative dementia behaviors to see if you can determine a cause. Is your loved one uncomfortable or in pain? Has he or she had a change in medications? Is there an illness present? Have basic needs such as hunger or sleep been met? If you can sense what triggers these behaviors, you may be able to thwart their appearance or lessen their impact on you and others.

Sometimes, there may not be a clear cause, but you can still address and soothe the behaviors. Some of the steps you may want to try include:

  • Stay positive and remain calm
  • Listen but do not react
  • Reduce stimuli and create a comfortable environment
  • Encourage rest, especially if sleep is an issue
  • Redirect your senior to another activity
  • Provide healthy meals and snacks
  • Address any pain or discomfort
  • Ensure the safety of your loved one
  • Share photos and reminisce about a happier time in your senior’s life
  • Release energy with a walk or car ride
  • Modify your response
  • Take a break if you are overwhelmed or stressed

Self-Care Matters

You may want to keep a log of or record your loved one’s negative dementia behaviors to share with his or her physician. It can be an easier way for you to track any episodes or detect a pattern that may be helpful for a clinician who isn’t in the home to see how your senior behaves.

Also, try not to be offended by your senior. He or she may not be able to effectively communicate, which can lead to frustration and lashing out at the nearest person, probably you or another caregiver. It most likely is not a personal attack, even though it feels like one.

Take care of your own needs. Maintain a healthy diet, exercise regularly, and get plenty of sleep. When you are feeling strong, you are better able to handle the stress of providing care for a senior with dementia.

You may also want to find a support group to share your experiences with other people who understand what you are going through and may have more advice and a sympathetic ear.

I know this is a difficult time, and I wish you the best of luck.


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