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Understanding the Symptoms and Behavior of Dementia

Posted by PCC Institute for Health Professionals on February 27, 2018

understanding dementia

As more people in an aging population suffer from dementia, it’s important for healthcare providers to understand how to care for and communicate with these patients. You can improve your caregiving skills with Portland Community College Aging Adult courses.

Dementia is not just one health condition; it’s a collection of conditions that can impact memory and brain function so severely that it affects a person’s daily life. These conditions may include:

  •    Alzheimer’s Disease
  •    Parkinson’s Disease
  •    Pick’s Disease
  •    Huntington’s Disease
  •    Vascular dementia (often caused by a stroke)
  •    Brain injury

With so many causes, dementia can also have a wide range of symptoms. These symptoms can change every day and have a large impact on how a person behaves.

A patient with dementia may show symptoms such as:

  • Wandering
  • Incontinence
  • Agitation
  • Perseveration
  • Paranoia
  • Sleeplessness
  • Poor Nutrition
  • Poor Hygiene

Symptoms of dementia can be challenging for caregivers to deal with since they often include behaviors that are hard to understand. It’s important to maintain good communication, not only to help the patient but to improve the quality of care and the caregiver’s experience.

How to Communicate with a Person with Dementia

When faced with these challenging symptoms, many caregivers have trouble communicating with someone with dementia. However, communication is still possible by following these tips.

Set a Positive Mood

Many patients with dementia feel scared, angry or agitated throughout the day. These feelings may be a result of the disease itself or a result of confusion they feel. To help patients deal with these feelings, caregivers should strive to keep a positive mood in all communication. Smiles, gentle touches and pleasant tones can help put patients at ease while also helping the caregiver feel more energetic.

Limit Distractions

Due to loss of brain function, it’s difficult for a patient with dementia to focus when there are a lot of noises or other stimuli. If you need to communicate with a person with dementia, eliminate background noise like TVs or radios. Get down on their level and make eye contact to help them focus on you and your words.

Keep Your Message Clear and Simple

Again, it’s easy for a patient with dementia to become confused. When you are communicating with them, use their name and keep your message simple. Use short sentences and speak slowly. Asking yes or no questions or giving only two choices is best to help patients make choices.

Listen for Meaning and Feelings

A patient may have difficulty putting what they are thinking into words. Pay attention to their body language, tone and other cues to understand the true meaning and feelings behind their words. You can suggest words if they are at a loss, but don’t correct or contradict them. Use your intuition to know what they are trying to say.

Respond with Reassurance

A patient may say many things that are incorrect with certainty. However, it can be upsetting for them to be told they are wrong. Instead, respond with reassurance both in your words and your body language. Pay attention to the emotions they are expressing and mirror those emotions. For instance, if they are recalling a happy memory that never happened, smile and laugh, too. Though it may be your instinct to correct them, it will be better for their mood and communication skills to feel reassured instead.

Stay Patient, and Keep Your Sense of Humor

Caring for someone with dementia can come with its challenges. Try to use humor to help both their mood and yours, and assist you in building better communication with the patient.


From entry-level training to continuing education units (CEUs) for working  professionals, CLIMB's Institute for Health Professionals offers a range  of educational opportunities for health care professionals. You can always  count on the Institute for Health Professionals at PCC CLIMB to provide  the health training that you need to succeed in a health care career. 

Topics: Healthcare, Aging Adult

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