Alzheimer's Disease: Caregiving Challenges

Alzheimer's disease can cause a person to exhibit unusual and unpredictable behaviors that challenge caregivers, including severe mood swings, verbal or physical aggression, combativeness, repetition of words, and wandering. These behavioral changes can lead to frustration and tension, for both people with Alzheimer's and their caregivers. It is important to remember that the person is not acting this way on purpose, and to analyze probable causes and develop care adjustments.

Common causes of behavior changes

  • Physical discomfort caused by an illness or medications

  • Overstimulation from a loud or overactive environment

  • Inability to recognize familiar places, faces, or things

  • Difficulty completing simple tasks or activities

  • Inability to communicate effectively

Tips for responding to challenging behaviors

  • Stay calm and be understanding

  • Be patient and flexible

  • Don't argue or try to convince the person

  • Acknowledge requests and respond to them

  • Try not to take behaviors personally

  • Accept the behavior as a reality of the disease and try to work through it

Exploring causes and solutions

It is important to identify the cause of the challenging behavior and consider possible solutions.

Identify and examine the behavior

  • What was the undesirable behavior? Is it harmful to the individual or others?

  • What happened before the behavior occurred?

  • Did something trigger the behavior?

Explore potential solutions

  • Is there something the person needs or wants?

  • Can you change the surroundings? Is the area noisy or crowded? Is the room well-lighted?

  • Are you responding in a calm, supportive way?

Try different responses in the future

  • Did your response help?

  • Do you need to explore other potential causes and solutions? If so, what can you do differently?

This information has been provided with the kind permission of the Alzheimer's Association. (,

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Dementia, Alzheimer's Disease, and Aging Brains

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Last Editorial Review: 7/7/2004

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