How to handle mood or behavior changes in a loved one with dementia

September 14th, 2018

By: Sharon Roth Maguire, MS, RN, GNP-BC, Chief Clinical Quality Officer, BrightStar Care

When a loved one has dementia, it can be easy for family caregivers to get frustrated with their loved one’s mood or behavior changes. One day, Mom might seem fine, but the next day she’s aggitated, and the following day, she’s depressed. As a result, family members may unintentionally shame or blame the loved one, when in reality, the person living with dementia is having trouble expressing a need or coping with their emotions.
 
In order to help a loved one living with dementia, which affects around 50 million people worldwide, family members will benefit from understanding ways to address these mood or behavior changes. It starts with understanding the real reason their loved one might be frustrated or sad and not being afraid to seek assistance from nurses or caregivers when needed.

What causes mood changes in seniors with dementia?

When an individual living with dementia behaves unusually, it’s important to try to determine why.
 
You’ve probably heard the term “hangry.” It’s slang for when we act angry because we’re hungry. People with dementia can be “hangry,” too. However, it’s quite common that people misunderstand this behavior by assuming the person living with dementia is just angry in general because they have dementia. In reality, sometimes they’re just hungry, or thirsty, or in pain but don’t know how to communicate it due to their dementia.
 
Physical pain also can lead to behavioral or mood changes in people with dementia. An individual with dementia who develops a urinary tract infection, for example, may feel the painful symptoms but may not know why they’re in pain, how to express it, or how to get help. A person living with dementia is more likely to “show us” (via mood or behavior) versus “tell us” that they’re not feeling well. Other things that can cause mood changes can include:

  • Fatigue
  • Frustration
  • General physical discomfort from arthritis
  • Physical needs, such as needing to use the restroom

How nurses and caregivers can help

BrightStar Care nurses and our professional caregivers are great detectives. That is, we’re good at spotting behaviors prompted by unmet needs. Once we spot specific triggers for these behavioral expressions, through our specialized in-person dementia care and feedback from the family, we can help you set up a daily schedule to reduce the likelihood of these behaviors and/or minimize their impact on your and your loved one’s overall quality of life. That may include things like:

  • A daily hygiene routine
  • Frequent snacks
  • Time for naps
  • Meaningful activity
  • Person-centered approaches

BrightStar Care nurses also can serve as a sounding board for family caregivers. If you need advice on communicating with a loved one or identifying an underlying need, we are always happy to help. Your BrightStar Care nurse can provide you with a booklet with materials from the National Alzheimer's Association that’s packed with valuable information to care for your loved one.
 
Dementia can be frustrating for those living with the disease as well as their families. When you get frustrated, pause for a moment and think about what might be the underlying cause of your loved one’s mood or behavior change. Searching for the root of the issue can help you better prepare for the next time your loved has trouble communicating their needs.
 
To learn how your loved one living with dementia might benefit from our expert in-home care team, call 866-618-7827 or contact a BrightStar Care® home care agency near you.