Changing Our Thinking About “Behaviors” and Dementia

 In Series on dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, Videos

When we are talking about dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, we have been taught to think that “behaviors” are bad. We often think “behaviors” are a problem that we have to make go away.

It is time that we change how WE think about the “behaviors” of people who are living with dementia!

“Behavior” is NOT BAD.


We have to focus on “a challenging (to us) behavior” as a symptom of DISTRESS or COMMUNICATION.

It is up to us to learn how to be the detectives who can find out and translate what the person is trying to tell us.

Behavioral expressions are often attempts to communicate unmet needs, such as:

• pain
• hunger
• thirst
• boredom
• loneliness
• an underlying medical condition

Behavioral expressions may also be a normal human response to a situation.

Behavior is not an automatic prescription (Rx) for restraints, including antipsychotic and psychotropic drugs!

Dr. Al Power, an international dementia expert, says: “I remain firmly rooted in the belief that most distress arises as expressions of unmet needs, and that drugs are not the answer.”

Kate Swaffer, an activist living with younger onset dementia, shares: “What are currently labeled as “Challenging Behaviors,” which are usually normal human responses, will be present if no one bothers to learn how to communicate with us, not the other way around.”

Using physical or chemical restraints is not the answer. Restraints are an abuse of the human right to be understood and cared for humanely and in the best possible way.

We cannot treat people living with dementia as simply a collection of ‘symptoms’ or ‘challenging behaviors’ to be managed.

People with dementia are individuals who deserve care and respect. They must be treated kindly and with dignity.

We have to uncover the root cause of behavioral expressions from this broader perspective. We have to learn how to be PROACTIVE, not reactive.

When we openly and honestly learn, accept, and acknowledge that it is no longer okay for us to try to change people who are living with dementia, we can begin the hard work of changing ourselves, and really getting to know the person so that we can learn more about them.

This is how we will create the kind of care and support that we want for our loved ones and ourselves.

How are YOU changing how you think and feel about the behavioral expressions of people living with dementia?

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