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Alzheimer's Disease: Dealing with Difficult Behavior

November is Alzheimer's Awareness Month. Learning the different types of behaviors indicative to Alzheimer's is crucial so caregiving can be administered safely and comfortably for all concerned.

Published: Feb 25, 2014

Alzheimer's Disease: Dealing with Difficult Behavior

November is Alzheimer's Awareness Month and in acknowledgement of this disease, Comfort Keepers® would like to both recognize and thank all of its caregivers - including your family members and our Comfort Keepers®-- for all they do for loved ones who suffer from Alzheimer's disease. The disease is perhaps one of the most unpleasant for all concerned. There is no cure but rather, a steady progression of debilitating symptoms which include erratic and difficult behavior that can be hard to manage for even the most seasoned professional.

In order to learn how to deal with difficult behavior that presents in seniors suffering Alzheimer's disease you must first know and understand the disease. Additionally, learning the different types of behaviors indicative to Alzheimer's is crucial so caregiving can be administered safely and comfortably for all concerned.

According to the Alzheimer's Association® the following are symptoms or behaviors that sufferers can exhibit:

  • Aggression and anger that can appear suddenly with little or no obvious cause.
  • Anxiety or agitation in facing or comprehending either new or confusing situations.
  • Memory loss and confusion present in the early stages of the disease that worsen with time. Late-stage sufferers may be unable to remember family, friends, or even familiar places. They forget words, become lost within a conversation due to lack of comprehension, and may forget how to use common items such as a brush or eating utensils.
  • Depression that can be hard to detect, due to the challenge of understanding and communicating with those who have Alzheimer's disease.
  • Hallucinations and delusions which can occur and are difficult to diagnose, as these are also symptoms of other mental disorders. Hallucinations involve the senses such as seeing or smelling something that is not there. Delusions entail thoughts and beliefs of things that are not real, which can cause those with Alzheimer's to be suspicious of family, friends and others. Seek professional help for proper diagnosis and treatment of these symptoms.
  • Changes in sleep patterns. Some sufferers of Alzheimer's experience "sundowning," a term used for those who become agitated and restless during the later hours of the day.
  • Repetition of words and questions due to brain deterioration as Alzheimer's progresses, making it even harder for sufferers to comprehend the world around them.
  • Wandering and getting lost. The problem can become serious since many with Alzheimer's disease are unable to remember their names, addresses, or even recognize familiar places.

When dealing with these difficult behaviors it is critical that caregivers, family members and friends learn what the triggers may be, acquire the skill to diffuse and divert uncomfortable situations, and to stay calm during bouts of behavioral outbursts.

Triggers can present when those with Alzheimer's become over-stimulated, are physically uncomfortable, or exhausted from changes in sleep-wake patterns. Medications can also cause some of these symptoms. Changes in routines can increase irritability and confusion. Triggers vary from person to person so careful observation is required to determine triggers for individuals with Alzheimer's.

The most important thing caregivers should know is when Alzheimer's patients act out it is neither the patient's fault nor the caregiver's. Try not take things personally. Instead, understand these behavioral patterns are simply a product of the disease. While there is no cure, caregivers can learn calming maneuvers that can help Alzheimer's sufferers feel safe and secure in times of need and possibly alleviate progression of difficult behavior in the moment. For each person the tactics may be different. However, with a broad understanding of the intricacies of the disease, the caregiver is better able to help Alzheimer's patients safely navigate difficult times.

Alzheimer's Association. How to respond when dementia causes unpredictable behaviors. Retrieved on October 10, 2012 from
Alzheimer's Association. Difficult behaviors. Retrieved on October 10, 2012 from


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