Common Behaviors In People With Dementia

All people with dementia have a unique experience and unique needs. If your loved one is experiencing dementia, the most important thing for you to remember is to stay patient. This disease can make a person do very uncharacteristic things. It’s important for you to realize that this is their reality.

Help prepare yourself for common behaviors you might see in your loved one by reading the list below.


Agitation encompasses a long list of behaviors like physical and verbal aggression, irritability, and sleeplessness. Sometimes, you won’t be able to tell why your loved one is angry. All you can do is provide them with a safe environment and help them stay calm.

Speak in a soothing voice and avoid activities that will give a person with dementia a spike in energy (drinking caffeine or consuming large amounts of sugar). Allow the person to be as independent as possible and acknowledge their frustration.


People with dementia wander for multiple reasons. They could be looking for someone, they might be in search of bathroom, or they might not know where they are and want to leave.

You can help by redirecting them in a comforting way. If your loved one is trying to leave, redirect them by saying something like, “We are going to be eating lunch in 15 minutes. Please stay for that.” or “I was going to watch an episode of I Love Lucy. Will you watch with me?”.

You can also redirect wandering by offering them a familiar activity that helps them feel needed. Folding washcloths, putting napkins on the dinner table, or sorting items by color might engage the person with dementia and prevent wandering.


It is very common for people with dementia to repeat themselves. They may ask the same questions or tell the same stories. This can be very frustrating for a caregiver, but it’s important you don’t lose your patience or tell them that they already asked. Many people feel anxiety about upcoming events if they don’t know all the details. Avoid mentioning future plans until immediately before they begin. Also, it may be helpful to put answers to common questions in writing. A sign on the table that says, “Lunch is at 11:30.” will help relieve some anxiety for the person with dementia and prevent extra frustration for the caregiver.


Many people with dementia experience extra behaviors that happen as it gets dark outside. This is a common time for visitors to leave which can cause extra anxiety. Additionally, many people with dementia have a difficult time telling whether it’s daytime or nighttime. The events of the day can leave your loved one feeling exhausted and agitated by sunset.

It is helpful to engage in quiet and calming behaviors after the final meal of the day. You may also find it beneficial to turn on all interior lights and shut all of the shades before the sun sets.


A person with dementia is often confused about their surroundings. Imagine this scenario: you’re in an unfamiliar place, you don’t recognize anyone around you, and you can’t find your purse/jacket/wallet. How do you feel?

You likely are feeling scared. You might feel like someone is playing a trick on you by hiding your belongings. It’s important to be a calming presence for your loved one – even if they don’t recognize you. Phrases like, “Your jacket is in the washing machine.” or “I’ll take care of you” are reassuring to the person with dementia because it makes them feel like someone is taking them seriously and is in control of the situation.

Disinterest in Food

We all lose some of our taste buds as we get older. A person with dementia might not remember that they need to eat and drink. Certain medications can also make their mouth taste strangely, so they will have less interest in eating.

People with dementia may not be convinced they should eat a large meal when they don’t feel hungry. Help your loved one get their necessary energy by offering small, healthy snacks like fresh fruit and nuts several times daily.

Incontinence and Change in Hygiene

Personal hygiene is often an issue for people with dementia. They may not remember they need to bathe, they may not know they haven’t used the toilet recently, and they may not realize they haven’t changed their clothes recently.

You can help by providing gentle reminders (statements work better than questions) to use the toilet at least once every two hours. “ Ok, we’re going to eat soon. Let’s stop by the bathroom now.” People with dementia will also need reminders to change their clothing. If they’re hesitant to accept help, lay a clean outfit on their bed. Then say, “There are clean clothes on your bed. Please change so I can wash this outfit.”

These behaviors are not uncommon, so don’t feel bad asking for help! Caring for a person with dementia can be frustrating. Stay patient and remember that your loved one is still there – even if it doesn’t always seem that way.

About the author
Sue Gibson


CarePatrol of San Mateo County

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