Dementia-Related Behaviors

Body Mind on Dementia MapSubmitted by Beth Rush
Founder and Managing Editor
Body+Mind Magazine

When a loved one begins experiencing the effects of dementia or Alzheimer’s, they may change more than anyone expected. Memory loss isn’t the only way these diseases affect people. Dementia can also cause these other behaviors that family members and caregivers should better understand to make life better for their loved one.

What Behaviors Are Dementia-Related?

People often think dementia makes people lose their memories. While that happens, it also causes other emotional and physical changes. It can make people behave in ways they never did.

Memory-loss diseases destroy neurons that promote cognitive function and eventually reach the cerebral cortex, which controls social and emotional behaviors more than any other part of the brain.

As those changes happen, many new behaviors become routine. Dysphagia is one of the most common behavioral adjustments that affect patients, loved ones and caregivers. However, many people without medical training aren’t aware of the condition.

What Is Dysphagia?

Soft diet for dysphagia
Photo by Lucian Alexe on Unsplash

You might not think about your ability to chew and swallow food because it’s instinctual — muscle memory and cognitive processing make both behaviors possible.

When someone with dementia develops more advanced symptoms, their brain may lose the ability to communicate with the muscles that make swallowing possible.

Someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s might get diagnosed with dysphagia if they can no longer chew solid foods, swallow without choking or swallow liquids like saliva. Adjusting their diet is the primary way to help someone with dysphagia live a higher quality life.

What Is a Dysphagia Soft Diet?

Soft foods are best for people with dysphagia because they require little effort to digest. As lovely as it would be to live on ice cream and mashed potatoes, dementia patients still need a diet with a well-rounded nutritional profile.

Talk with your loved one’s doctor about which foods are best for them, given their health history. Their primary care physician may recommend foods such as:

  • Pureed meals
  • Softened bread or whole wheat, like oatmeal
  • Ripe fruits like bananas
  • Steamed vegetables cut into small pieces
  • Sauce-like sides such as pudding or apple sauce
applesauce for dysphagia
Photo by Rachel Loughman on Unsplash

Even though these foods are safe for people who can’t chew, they could still cause a choking hazard. It may be safest to feed your loved one by hand if they struggle to eat smaller bites or can’t hold utensils. It depends on their dementia progression.

Nutritionists can also help loved ones or caregivers provide a well-rounded diet. Finding new ways to include healthy foods may seem challenging, but help is available for anyone transitioning a dementia patient to soft-food meals and snacks.

Other Notable Dementia-Related Behaviors

Dysphagia isn’t the only significant change someone with memory loss might experience. Your loved one could also learn to live with these dementia-related behaviors.

1. Mood Swings

There are many reasons why someone with dementia might become angrier more often than they did before. They might have physical discomfort they can’t communicate well, like a urinary tract infection or aching muscles. They might also be embarrassed when they can’t take care of themselves or control their body like they used to.

Becoming angry isn’t always a choice, even for people without dementia. Research shows when the brain has less prefrontal cortex activity, people can become more aggressive and have less self-awareness. It’s the basis behind mean-drunk psychology and mood swings in dementia patients.

The best way to help someone in this state of mind is to avoid judgment. Take care of any environmental factors that may trigger their anger and let them know they have your support. You can also request help to take a break if their volatile emotions become too stressful.

2. Increased Paranoia

Most people want to find a reason for their problems. It’s hard to accept what you don’t understand, especially if you’re the cause of the issue. When dementia patients misplace a belonging or become afraid of a new person, they may not understand their illness is the cause. Instead, they become suspicious and may invent a reason for their fear.

It’s difficult not to take this dementia-related behavior personally, but remember, it’s the disease making your loved one act this way. Avoiding an argument and switching the subject will keep things as peaceful as possible while the patient engages with their paranoid explanations.

Therapists trained in paranoia-related conditions can also help dementia patients. They may need to travel to the patient’s home or appear virtually to provide services, but they’ll offer new perspectives and tools to help everyone involved.

3. Wandering

Home is the place where people feel safest. They know their needs will get met by what’s in the house or the people who live with them. People with dementia often wander to get back to that feeling of safety.

Someone may get restless, start pacing or attempt to leave their environment for various reasons. They could have pain, disorientation or something as simple as boredom. They know they won’t feel that way at home or even in a different environment, so they leave.

Creating a routine can help them feel comfortable in a new setting and wearable GPS devices are helpful for individuals who tend to wander too far.

Restraints should never become a routine part of anyone’s life. If the person wandering poses a threat, authorities must handle the situation. Restraining a dementia patient to a chair or bed will only cause more panic and a desire to run.

4. Loss of Interest

The brain’s frontal lobe is also where people get motivated for tasks. You use that part of your brain to engage in hobbies, so dementia patients often lose interest as their disease progresses.

Some caregivers and family members often associate this symptom with depression. Dementia patients may experience depression as part of their journey, but losing interest in their hobbies or lifelong passions isn’t always a sign of depression.

It can also be an effect of their brain changing without depression symptoms like hopelessness, sadness or suicidal ideations.

There are a few ways to help someone who no longer finds joy in their preferred activities. You could attend group activities with them to discover what they like.

Old hobbies that used to seem boring may gain appeal for new reasons. Their doctor may also recommend medications that make previous behaviors more fun.

5. Sleepwalking

Dementia also affects a person’s internal clock. The brain may not regulate its sleep cycle like before, leading to sleepwalking episodes. Dementia patients could also wake up and feel disoriented. They might walk around their home seeking a particular room or person to make them feel at ease.

As people age, their bodies also need less sleep. Their metabolisms aren’t working as hard because bodily functions slow down. It’s natural to wake up when your body feels rested. When combined with memory loss, sleepwalking could become a nightly routine.

Caregivers and family members can adjust their loved one’s routine to minimize sleepwalking episodes. Eating lighter meals at dinnertime means the digestive system can slow down during the night. A nightlight could help them recognize their bedroom more quickly, while an evening routine calms their mind before going to sleep.

Understand the Effects of Dementia on Behavior

There are many behaviors associated with dementia besides memory loss. When your loved one experiences challenges like dysphagia, sleepwalking or paranoia, talk with their doctor about treatment options. Environmental or routine changes could make their life more enjoyable alongside recommended medications.

Body Mind on Dementia Map

Beth Rush
Body+Mind Magazine

Beth Rush is a Founder and the Managing Editor at Body+Mind and a lover of all things health and wellness. She is a well-respected writer in the personal wellness space and shares knowledge on a variety of topics related to nutrition, fitness, holistic health and disease prevention.

In her spare time, Beth enjoys cooking healthy recipes and trying out new fitness trends.

Visit Beth on Dementia Map or on her website.

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