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5 Safe Ways to Handle Cognitive Impairment Behaviors

People with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and other disorders that cause cognitive impairment sometimes exhibit behaviors that can be aggressive, disruptive and challenging to deal with. For family members and caregivers this behavior can quickly become hurtful and exhausting. However, it’s important to remember that your loved one is not behaving this way on purpose or to be hurtful. The brain damage caused by dementia can be the reason behind their actions.

Doctors often treat these behaviors with antipsychotic medications, but according to the American Geriatrics Society (AGS), they don’t have to be and shouldn’t be your first choice.

The AGS has researched the viability of antipsychotic medications for older adults displaying dementia behaviors and found that antipsychotic medications and placebo medications had the same result—neither reduced challenging behaviors— and that the drugs are powerful and come with serious side effects such as drowsiness, confusion, higher chances of falls, diabetes, pneumonia, stroke and sudden death.

Currently, there is no solution that can prevent every angry outburst caused by cognitive impairment but there are effective ways to minimize upset, reduce your stress, and increase the safety of everyone involved before needing to resort to antipsychotic drugs.

5 Ways to Handle Disruptive Dementia Behaviors


1.   Get a Comprehensive Medical Exam

It’s common for people with conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia to have trouble communicating their needs since these conditions can affect their memory and perception of the world around them. A complete physical exam and medication review may give you a better idea of what is at the root of their disruptive behavior.

A physical exam will check for any physical problems they may be facing like constipation, infections, sleep issues, chronic pain and vision or hearing problems. Any of these physical ailments could be the root of their aggressive behaviors.

A medication review will show you whether a combination of certain medications (or their side effects) is causing feelings of confusion and agitation, which could also be a root cause of their challenging behaviors.

2.   Maintain a Consistent Routine

One of the most common symptoms of dementia is a decline in cognitive ability. This could mean memory loss, poor judgment, difficulty handling responsibilities, and trouble speaking or understanding. Having a structured daily routine removes the fear of the unknown for your loved one, reducing stress brought on by instability in their day-to-day activities.

3.   Ensure Regular Physical Exercise

Physical exercise has immensely positive benefits for older adults with dementia. Apart from enhancing physical health, exercise can uplift their mood, promote increased cognitive abilities and improve their sleep.

4.   Contact a Behavior Specialist

Behavior specialists can help you learn new ways to effectively communicate with your loved one as their cognitive abilities decline. For example, if an older adult with dementia feels lost or unsafe in their environment, it would be better to warn them before you touch them so they don’t feel startled or afraid.

Behavior specialists can also provide specific dementia communication tips for your situation like engaging in therapeutic fibs (ending the truth to reduce agitation from a person with dementia), reducing the need for repetitive questions, and handling your frustration better.

5.   Try Safer Medications

There are several FDA-approved medications for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia that are not antipsychotic drugs. Talk to your healthcare provider about your options.

It’s difficult to know where to begin when someone you love is struggling with cognitive issues. You don’t have to go it alone. Oasis Senior Advisors is here to support you and offer suggestions on how to ease your family’s situation. Call 475.619.4123 or 914.356.1901 or fill out this online form.

Oasis Senior Advisors


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Paul and Susan Doyle

Certified Senior Advisor®

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