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Grane Hospice Care Blog

With Dementia Behaviors Can’t Always Be Helped

During a recent presentation I did I realized that some people still think that people with dementia can help their “behaviors” (or that they do whatever it is on purpose). So “behaviors” is a word that a lot of us hate, but it is being used to describe actions that are out of the ordinary. Some examples may be crying, aggression, wandering or pacing, repetition, clinging, amongst other things. 

While these “behaviors” are not abnormal, if it’s a change in the way our loved one usually is then it can be concerning. Just to clarify, they are not doing any of this on purpose. Our loved ones cannot help it. They are actually trying to communicate something, there is a reason behind what they are doing. They could be scared, confused, in pain, hot or cold, upset, bored, maybe they have to go to the bathroom and they are having trouble communicating that, and maybe their brain is simply stuck (or it could be a million other things). Their brain is broken, it’s not just their memory. This can be difficult to understand especially when it’s so hard for us to believe this is happening to our loved one. It’s natural for us to get frustrated so if that’s how you are feeling, it’s ok. You are doing a great job so don’t be down on yourself.

Caring for a loved one who has dementia can become extremely difficult. Dementia treats everyone different and doesn’t act the same in any person. Sometimes you may experience the “behaviors” of your loved one. Behaviors are a form of communication. No matter how frustrating it is, it is important to understand that they are trying to tell you something. If you can start to think of “behaviors” as an unmet need it is easier to understand. It could be they are hungry, thirsty, hot, cold, in pain, or they may just be bored. Sometimes their brain just gets stuck on something. It could be an unlimited number of needs and sometimes we have to act as an investigator to find out what it is.

There are some things we can do to help when communicating with our loved ones:

  • Call them by their name (if they have a nick name that they’ve been called all their life then you should use that)
  • Tell them who you are using a calm, gentle voice
  • Use short, simple sentences and speak slowly
  • It is best to have no distractions around
  • Allow enough time for them to understand what you said and find an answer. Sometimes this can take up to 90 seconds. It’s best to just let them think and be silent so you don’t confuse them, don’t ask more questions while waiting for their answer
  • No matter how bad the dementia gets try and remember they are adults so don’t talk down to them, they are not children
  • Do your best to avoid asking a lot of questions
  • Don’t say “remember”, because they probably don’t


There are many ways to help make the caregiving process easier. Just remember as long as you are doing your best and keeping your loved one’s best interest in mind then you are doing a great job. Don’t forget to take care of yourself as well.

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