Coping with Personality Changes

Expert Tips for Dementia Care from Homewatch CareGivers

Personality changes in someone with dementia can be difficult for a loved one or caregiver to handle. Whether present in a spouse or a parent, the illness can potentially make that person aggressive, despondent, confused, or another potentially negative emotion.

Physically, these changes can be brought on by the deterioration of brain cells as the disease progresses, but in-home caregivers should also be aware of the possibility of medications, other medical conditions, and environmental influences causing personality changes in one with dementia.

The Alzheimer Society provides a list of “triggering situations” that might lead to behavioural changes in someone with dementia.

“Situations affecting behaviour may include” the following:

  • Moving to a new residence or nursing home
  • Changes in a familiar environment or caregiver arrangements
  • Misperceived threats
  • Admission to a hospital
  • Being asked to bathe or change clothes

“Identifying what has triggered a behaviour can often help in selecting the best approach to deal with it,” the Alzheimer’s Association notes on their site.

They also provide coping tips for when behavioural problems arise in someone with dementia:

  • Don’t take it personally.
  • Avoid being confrontational or arguing about facts. “For example, if a person expresses a wish to go visit a parent who died years ago, don't point out that the parent is dead,” states the Alzheimer Society. “Instead, say, ‘Your mother is a wonderful person. I would like to see her too.’”
  • Create a calm environment by eliminating any background noise, such as the television.
  • Look for medical reasons behind the behaviour and consult their doctor.
  • Redirect the person’s attention.

The Alzheimer Society also has an online network for caregivers to be in touch so that they do not feel alone in dealing with these difficult situations.

If non-drug approaches do not alter the behaviour or personality changes, there are medications that may be tried as a last resort. These medications are used in situations of severe symptoms when an individual is a risk to themselves or others. The Alzheimer Society provides a list of guiding principles to consider before selecting a medication.

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