How To Best Address The Behavior Of Someone With Dementia

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By Laura N. Gitlin, Ph.D.

informationAnyone caring for someone with dementia should carefully observe what is taking place before, during, and after a common “behavior.” Then is the time to think about ways for preventing, reducing or addressing the behavior.

“Brainstorming” is a method of solving specific problems by spontaneously thinking of new and creative ideas without immediately judging whether they will work or not. After you have brainstormed for 10 minutes or so, go back and critically look at your ideas and whether they are doable. You can brainstorm with a health-care professional or someone else you know who has experience with these problems.

Here are some general guidelines for brainstorming:

1. Always work on one behavior at a time.

2. Consider what your personal goal is (e.g., prevent the behavior, minimize its occurrences, make it safer for the person if the behavior occurs).

3. Consider which triggers can be changed. Strategies are designed to help minimize the occurrence of the behavior or address the behavior when it occurs. The strategies may also help keep the person with dementia safe, comfortable and content, as well as preserve your own energy, time, patience and financial resources.

After brainstorming, try to implement one or more strategies:

1. Try out the one(s) you have chosen.

2. Try just one strategy at a time or try several, depending on the behavior.

3. You may have to try a strategy for 1 to 2 weeks before you are able to notice a difference in the person with dementia’s behavior.

4. If you find that a strategy makes the behavior worse, discontinue it.

5. You may benefit from working with a health professional to review your situation.

6. Communication strategies are highly effective, so try these first.

Finally, evaluate whether the strategy is effective: Does it work?

1. Record or monitor which strategies seem to reduce or help address the problem behavior.

2. If the strategies do not work, then try others from your brainstorming list. You may also want to then talk to family members, health professionals and the doctor of the person you are caring for about the behavior to identify other strategies for addressing the behavior.

– Laura N. Gitlin, Ph.D., is Director of the Center for Applied Research on Aging and Health at John Hopkins University. In addition to directing the Center, Dr. Gitlin is a professor at the Schools of Nursing and Medicine. She is a nationally and internationally recognized researcher with more than 24 years experience in dementia and caregiving research. Dr. Gitlin’s research is supported by grants from both federal agencies and private foundations, including the Alzheimer’s Association and the National Institutes of Health. Founded by Dr. Gitlin, the Center seeks to improve the lives of older adults and their family members through research, training of health professionals, and implementation of evidence-based clinical services. the Center is committed to enhancing the quality of life for older adults and family caregivers by developing, testing, and disseminating innovative community and home-based health and human services. Learn more about the Center’s research at