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2 Coping with unusual behaviour

  • Talk to your GP or other health professional involved in the care of your relative: this can really help you deal with the changes. Everyone is different and the response and support that is needed will be too.
  • Try to see things differently: remember that dementia affects a person's ability to use logic and reason, so don’t expect your relative to think or behave in the same way that they did before the illness. 
  • Blame the condition: try to remember that it is not them, but their condition that is making them behave in this way.
  • Think about what is necessary: if your relative appears agitated or acts unusually when you try to do a particular activity – such as washing, dressing or going out – ask yourself if it needs to be done, if you can do things differently, or if you can postpone the action for a while until the person has calmed down.  
  • Communicate differently: remember that all behaviour, however unusual, can be a means of communication. Try to work out what your relative might be trying to communicate. For example: trying to undress could mean that they are hot or need to go to the toilet; pacing up and down may mean that they need more exercise; and becoming agitated may mean that they are uncomfortable in an unfamiliar, loud or busy environment.
  • Step back and think: sometimes carers can make the situation worse by misunderstanding what the person with dementia is trying to communicate. Try stepping away from the situation, look at your relative’s body language and take time to try to understand what he or she might be feeling.
  • Calming techniques: if your relative becomes agitated, try to give them reassurance and calm them down. Being in an unfamiliar setting or doing new things might make them more agitated. Soothing activities, such as speaking in a gentle voice, watching a favourite TV programme, having a gentle massage or listening to their favourite music might help them to feel better.
  • Take a break: unusual behaviours, particularly a repetitive behaviour, can be very irritating. If you find the person's behaviour difficult to deal with, step out of the room for a while or explore alternative care options that will allow you to take a break, such as day centres or specific clubs for people with dementia (see Respite care).
  • Get support: looking after someone with dementia can be very tiring. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and advice if you need it. Carers UK offers support to carers and groups such as Alzheimer's Society and Dementia UK have helplines for relatives (see Useful organisations and websites for memory problems). 
  • Use our Care services directory to find local support groups for people living with dementia.