Over 5 million Americans aged 65 and older are living with Alzheimer’s. If someone you love is one of them, you may already know how difficult navigating some of the common behavioral changes can be. If you are a primary caregiver or offer other support for a loved one with Alzheimer’s, you should be aware of behaviors that often accompany the diagnosis. There are ways to manage them to keep your loved one safe and comfortable.
While there are numerous behaviors associated with this condition, here we discuss some of the most common, offer strategies on how to cope with them, and also touch on how skilled, compassionate memory care at a senior living community like Edgemere can help.
Common Alzheimer’s Behaviors
Accepting an Alzheimer’s diagnosis is the first step toward successfully managing the disease. The typical behaviors exhibited by someone with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia are a result of the deterioration of brain cells that the disease causes. Learning more about what your loved one may go through as the disease progresses can help you prepare for when these behaviors arise.
Repeating the Same Question and Activity
In the early stages of the disease, your loved one may start repeating the same question or activity. In some cases, they may not remember having asked the question or performed the task before. Others may be seeking comfort in something familiar in a situation or environment that is disorienting or confusing.
Sleep Disturbance or “Sundowning”
It is common for patients with Alzheimer’s to have trouble sleeping or to experience confusion, anxiety, agitation and disorientation beginning at dusk. Behavioral issues that have a pattern of showing up around dusk are known as “sundowning.” Sundowning may occur due to the increase of shadows that occurs when there is less light in the house, which can trigger confusion or cause your loved one to misinterpret what they are seeing.
Other types of sleeping trouble can occur due to a variety of reasons, including less need for sleep, an upset in the internal clock that confuses day and night, or a desire to avoid the disorientation that can come with the inability to delineate between reality and their dreams.
Restlessness and Wandering
Six in ten people with Alzheimer’s or dementia will wander at least once, and many will do so repeatedly throughout their time living with the disease. Wandering can be a very dangerous activity, so this common behavior is especially important to watch for. Because Alzheimer’s can cause patients to lose their ability to recognize familiar faces and places, wandering can occur when they no longer recognize their surroundings. Signs of wandering behavior include:
- Taking longer to return from a walk than normal
- Forgetting how to get to familiar places
- Becoming restless or making repetitive movements
- Asking to “go home” when they are already at home
- Acting anxious in new locations or crowded areas
Aggression and Anger
Verbal or physical acts of aggression or anger are some of the hardest Alzheimer’s behaviors to deal with as a family, but they are common behaviors as well. Due to the disorientating nature of the disease, your loved one may lash out verbally, or even physically, for a number of reasons.
Often, bursts of anger and aggression come from feelings of discomfort or frustration. Your loved one may feel like they aren’t being understood, or as though they can’t communicate the idea or need they are trying to. Outbursts may also occur in new or stressful environments or situations, or when your loved one is trying to remember something but can’t.
Aggressive and angry behavior may arise out of:
- Physical discomfort
- Environmental confusion
- Unclear communication
- Underlying distress
How to Manage Common Alzheimer’s Behaviors
One of the most important things to remember when navigating behavioral changes associated with Alzheimer’s is that your loved one is not doing these things to hurt you or themselves intentionally. Most of the troubling behaviors we’ve discussed come from a place of confusion and internal frustration that is a result of the disease’s degenerative nature.
Managing Repetitive Actions or Words
A common refrain you’ll read as we discuss managing Alzheimer’s behaviors is to look for the reason behind the behavior. In the case of repetitive words, actions or questions, this includes seeking out patterns or other factors that are consistent with their repetition.
- Do the repetitions occur in specific situations? Around certain people? At certain times of day?
- What is the emotion behind the behavior? Your loved one may be trying to communicate a need with their repetition.
- Can you provide an answer? If they are asking the same question repeatedly, provide a straightforward answer more than once. If they are unable to comprehend a verbal answer, write it down and post it in a prominent place.
- Can you turn a repetitive action into an engaging activity? Find ways to redirect the repetitive behavior toward an activity that can break boredom and re-engage them.
Create Structure and Routine to Manage Sundowning
Handling the behaviors that come with sundowning, including trouble sleeping and increased agitation, is often about creating an easy-to-follow structure for your loved one.
- Are there patterns in what triggers their sundowning behavior?
- Can you increase the light in the home during the evening?
- Are there certain types of music or activities that calm and soothe your loved one? Can you incorporate more of these in the evening?
- How can you help them follow a consistent schedule?
Redirect Pacing or Wandering
Pacing can lead to wandering and wandering can be incredibly dangerous, or even fatal, to your loved one. Without constant supervision, completely eliminating this behavior may be difficult, but there are ways to keep your loved one safe and redirect pre-wandering behaviors.
- Are there certain times of day they are more likely to wander? Often, wandering and restless pacing can be paired with the increased anxiety and confusion of sundown behaviors.
- Are your loved one’s basic needs met? If their needs are cared for during the day, you can consider restricting liquid intake before bed to avoid instances of nighttime wandering on the way to the bathroom.
- How do they respond to new surroundings? If they seem lost or confused, try to soothe them with comforting words, music, or take them somewhere more familiar.
- How can you involve them in your daily activities? Engage your loved one in simple tasks like folding laundry or dusting. This will help keep them focused on the task at hand and can sometimes redirect the confusing impulse that leads to wandering.
Focus on Their Feelings
When your loved one acts out in anger or with aggressive behavior, it can be difficult not to take it personally. However, it is crucial to remember that they aren’t attacking you out of malice.
- Can you identify the immediate cause? Think about what happened right before the behavior occurred.
- Are they in pain? It’s important to rule out physical pain as the immediate cause.
- How does your loved one feel? Often, the outburst is not about the details they may provide. It’s important to look for the underlying feeling behind the words or actions.
- Can you eliminate distractions? Disorientation can lead to aggressive behavior, so minimizing environmental factors that can cause it can help diffuse the aggression.
Learn About Memory Care at Edgemere
Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s is not easy, but you don’t have to do it alone. At Edgemere, we have a caring, comprehensive memory care center that can help your loved one live well and safely. With round-the-clock support and supervision by highly-trained professionals, you can rest easier knowing that your loved one is in a safe, structured environment. Contact us to learn more about memory care at Edgemere in Dallas today.