Dementia Behaviors: Understanding and Navigating Triggers

Woman learns triggers for older man’s dementia behaviors

One of the most challenging aspects of caring for people with dementia is managing difficult dementia behaviors. These behaviors can be distressing for both the person with dementia and their caregivers. 

However, by understanding and navigating the triggers causing these dementia-related behaviors, family caregivers can significantly improve the quality of life for their loved ones – and themselves. 

Navigating Dementia-Related Behaviors: A Summary

  • Understanding and identifying the triggers behind dementia-related behaviors, such as environmental changes, physical discomfort, emotional stress, and overstimulation, can help caregivers manage these behaviors effectively.
  • Creating a calm environment, using clear communication, engaging in meaningful activities, and monitoring physical health are vital strategies that caregivers can use to reduce challenging dementia behaviors.
  • Caregivers need education, support groups, professional guidance, and respite care options to manage the demands and emotional stress of caring for someone with dementia.

Understanding Behaviors of Dementia Patients

Individuals with dementia may exhibit a range of behavioral and psychological symptoms such as agitation, aggression, wandering, sleep problems, and repetitive actions. These behaviors are often a form of communication, signaling unmet needs or discomfort. Identifying the triggers that lead to these unusual behaviors is the first step in managing them effectively.

Common triggers for unwanted behaviors as dementia progresses

There may be multiple factors that cause unwanted behaviors. Here are some common triggers: 

  • Environmental changes: Changes in the person’s environment can cause confusion and anxiety. This includes moving to a new home – or even moving familiar objects.
  • Physical discomfort: Pain, hunger, sleep disturbance, or other physical discomforts can trigger challenging behaviors. Since individuals with dementia may have difficulty knowing or expressing an unmet need, they might act out instead.
  • Emotional stress: Feelings of frustration, fear, loneliness, or depression can lead to behavioral changes. Emotional stress can be triggered by various factors, including interactions with others, internal thoughts, or reliving previous experiences.
  • Overstimulation or understimulation: Too much noise, activity, or clutter can overwhelm a person with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, leading to agitation. Conversely, boredom and lack of stimulation are also common triggers.

nurse works with people with dementia - older man works on puzzle

Navigating Dementia Behaviors

Once triggers are identified, caregivers can try to implement strategies to navigate and manage these behaviors. Here are some practical approaches for family members to try. 

1. Create a calm environment.

Maintaining a calm and structured environment can help reduce confusion and anxiety. This can be achieved by maintaining a consistent daily routine, minimizing noise and distractions, and using soft lighting in the person’s room. In general, create a safe and comfortable space to make your loved one feel secure. 

2. Speak slowly and focus on clear communication.

Communicating with someone with dementia requires patience and understanding. Use clear, simple sentences and a gentle tone of voice. Non-verbal communication, such as smiling, eye contact, and gentle touch, can also be very effective. Ask open-ended questions. Avoid arguing. 

3. Engage in meaningful activities.

Engaging individuals in activities that provide comfort and stimulation can help reduce behavioral symptoms. Tailor activities to the person’s personality, interests, and abilities. For example, you might try music therapy, pet therapy, regular exercise, simple puzzles or crafts, or reminiscing.

4. Monitor physical health.

There may be an underlying medical cause for your loved one’s behavior. Regularly check for signs of physical discomfort, such as pain, hunger, fatigue, or changes in sleep patterns. Addressing these needs promptly with older adults can prevent challenging behaviors.

Importance of Caregiver Support

Caring for someone with dementia can be demanding and emotionally taxing. Caregivers need support and coping strategies to manage their own well-being and provide adequate care. 

  • Education: Learn as much as possible about your loved one’s brain disorder—the Alzheimer’s Association provides valuable free online resources related to dementia care. 
  • Support Groups: Consider participating in a caregiver support group for emotional support.
  • Professional Guidance: Access healthcare professionals who can offer advice and support.
  • Address Safety Concerns: Talk with a professional if your loved one shows aggressive behavior. 
  • Respite Care: If your family member needs around-the-clock care, please consider respite care. 


Mira Vie provides Respite Care services that provide temporary relief for family caregivers. During this time, professional caregivers will support and supervise loved ones at one of our comfortable locations. Contact a staff member today to schedule a tour of one of our Respite Care locations near you.

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