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Dementia: Coping With Behavioral Changes In A Loved One

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As a person’s dementia symptoms progress, they may start to behave in ways that those close to them find difficult to understand. These changes in behavior can be on of the most difficult aspects of living with dementia. These behaviours are usually the result of person feeling confused or distressed.

Aggression is very well known symptom of dementia. In fact, it is incredibly common. Even still, being verbally or physically attacked by a loved one can still come as a real shock and be extremely heart-breaking. Even more so when that person has never shown any previous signs of violence or aggression.

If your loved one has dementia and you are caring for or supporting them, then this article is for you. We look at some of the best ways you can deal and cope with these behavioural changes.

How does dementia change a person?

Dementia describes a collection of symptoms that are caused by disorders affecting the brain. As dementia starts to set in, it can have a huge impact on the way a person behaves. These changes can be extremely out of character and involve shouting, swearing or screaming repetitively, all of which can be deeply upsetting. It can also include more physical changes in behaviour that can cause harm including biting, kicking and hitting other people.

For obvious reasons, these aggressive outbursts can be difficult to accept for close relatives and friends. In these moments, it is always important to understand and remind yourself that this kind of behaviour is a side effect of the illness. It can happen for a number of reasons:

  • Your loved one might have a medical issue and is in pain or feels unwell
  • Often, symptoms can have an emotional effect and leave them frightened and confused
  • They may also struggle to communicate basic feelings such as being cold or lonely
  • Lastly, personal issues such as needing the toilet

It can be very common for people living with dementia to react to these situations in a much more aggressive way. Other side effects of dementia such as hallucinations, delusions and paranoia only add to the change in a person’s behaviour. On top of this, memory loss and the inability to recall a name or person (even their own) can be terrifying for someone with dementia. It’s no wonder they can sometimes lash out in response.

How to handle this change


If you do come under attack, it can be difficult to know how to react. Here are our top tips to responding to changes in behavior and aggression.

Firstly, it is very important to make and maintain eye contact with the person/ loved one once they have started their outburst. Try to listen patiently for any clues or reasons as to what might have triggered this sudden change.

Have you changed something recently that they didn’t like? Are they comfortable? Or are they too cold? Try looking at what they can smell, hear and see. Doing so will allow you to adapt their surroundings and make them comfortable. Making a few key changes to their surroundings or daily routine can really help avoid these outbursts.

Distraction is another extremely effective and common technique that can be used to deal with a sudden change in a person’s behavior. For example, if you know something is agitating them, try putting on the radio or watching the television to help distract them.

Generally though, try not to retaliate by shouting. Try counting to ten before you respond. Aggressive tones and retaliations can make the situation worse and elicit a more aggressive response.


Physical attacks are a little different. Firstly, it is important for you to protect yourself and move out of harm’s way. Try to remove any objects that could be used as a weapon. Unless you are in any immediate danger, we would always recommend not restraining your loved one as this could make the situation much worse.

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