Living with dementia


Understanding behaviour

Behaviours associated with complex and challenging mental health, dementia or other neurological conditions include aggression, wandering and agitation. These apparent changes in the personality of the person with the disease are a major source of distress both to the person who is presenting the behaviours and to those who experience them – the caregiver, the family members, and the service providers in all sectors of the health-care system.

Video: How Can I Manage Challenging Behaviour?

The material was created by TCD, through the NEIL Programme at the Institute of Neuroscience with support from GENIO.

© 2016 The Provost, Fellows, Foundations Scholars, and the Other Members of Board, of the College of the Holy and Undivided Trinity Of Queen Elizabeth, near Dublin. Permission to use this material was granted by TCD which reserves all rights in the material.

Strategies for responding to behaviours

Read more below about understanding the behaviours and how to respond to them. For more information, please contact your local Alzheimer Society.




Walks away from home unattended with the risk of becoming lost


  • Look for an immediate cause.
  • Reassure the person and distract him with another activity.
  • Move locks on the outside doors out of reach.
  • Disguise doors with paint or wallpaper.
  • Ensure regular walks and exercise.
  • Put reminders (i.e., coat, hat) out of sight and reach.
  • Inform neighbours.
  • Register with MedicAlert® Safely Home®.


Paces nervously, drums fingers, etc. for long periods of time


  • Distract the person -- find a meaningful activity.
  • Calm her with music or touch.
  • Consider pacing as a form of exercise (make sure her way is clear).
  • Look for a pattern and arrange your schedule to be with her at that time.

Repeated actions

Repeats words or actions over and over and over again

  • If the behaviour does not bother you, do nothing.
  • Distract him with simple activities (i.e., folding laundry, polishing the furniture, shoes, etc.)
  • Change the subject.
  • Stay calm.


Thinks others are trying to hurt her

Accuses others of stealing possessions

  • Provide comfort.
  • Don't argue or try to reason with her.
  • Don't take accusations personally.
  • Distract with another activity.

Sexual behaviour

Removing clothes/exposing herself

Physical and verbal advances towards others

  • Don't judge or scold.
  • Provide affection.
  • Look for unrelated needs (Does she need to use the toilet? Is she lonely or bored? Is she too hot or cold?)
  • Distract with other activities.
  • Stay calm.
  • Provide privacy.


Physical and emotional outbursts (i.e., shouting, hitting)


  • Be calm and reassuring.
  • Look for an immediate cause.
  • Give her space to cool down.
  • Distract her.
  • If your safety is threatened, leave.

Additional resources

Last Updated: 05/19/16
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