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Tips for Managing Difficult Behaviors in Alzheimer’s Patients

Elderly Father Walked by Son

Difficult behaviors are quite common and predictable in individuals living with Alzheimer’s disease. These symptoms are often known as behavioral and psychiatric symptoms, and are ascribed to a large and varied group of behaviors and experiences associated with Alzheimer's disease. As the disease progresses, many people experience these symptoms in addition to memory loss and other cognitive symptoms. Underlying medical conditions, environmental influences, and some medications can cause behavioral symptoms or make them worse.

These symptoms include:

  • Sleep Disturbances
  • Agitation (physical aggression and yelling, emotional distress, an inability to sit still, shredding paper, yelling)
  • Delusional Episodes
  • Hallucinations

A person exhibiting any of these symptoms should receive a thorough medical evaluation, especially when they come on suddenly. These symptoms can be caused or exacerbated by factors other than dementia.

Treatments for behavioral and psychiatric symptoms related to Alzheimer’s disease fall into two categories: non-drug interventions and prescription medications.  Behavioral (non-drug) interventions should be tried first. Non-drug interventions include redirection, distraction, finding other outlets for energy (art, music, taking a walk), make the environment less noisy, simplifying tasks, plenty of rest between activities, soften lighting, and DO NOT ARGUE!

Prescription Medications can be effective in many instances, but they must be used carefully and are most effective when combined with non-drug approaches. Consider consulting with a neurologist or geriatric psychiatrist who is trained to diagnosis and treat mental disorders, including depression and anxiety, in older adults.  Be sure to include your primary care physician in the process.

Editor’s Note: This article was submitted by Amy French, Manager of Programs and Education for the Alzheimer's Association Mid South Chapter. The Alzheimer’s Association can be reached locally at 1-800-272-3600.

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