Understanding behaviours

We communicate in order to get across our ideas and to influence people. Communication with a person living with dementia may break down because of differences between your intentions and their understanding of what you mean.

Family members and carers can inadvertently cause agitation or distress when the wrong cues have been picked up or when intentions are unwittingly at odds.

  • Try to avoid being judgemental about behaviours that you find difficult. They can be expressions of distress.
  • Think about what an unhelpful behaviour might mean. Getting angry may come from frustration, physical discomfort or an unsatisfied need, for example. But bear in mind that although unhelpful behaviour does usually mean something it may not always be possible to correctly interpret this meaning and resolve the problem. Trust your intuition.
  • Is there an unmet need? Offer some suggestions to try to find out.
  • Can you find a useful distraction?
  • Be prepared to be treated as someone you are not (for example being mistaken for another relative).
  • Be prepared to walk away or to find someone else who may help if you are becoming frustrated yourself. Try not to get angry.