Our personalities make us individuals. They are the way we think, act, react and behave. Over time, our personalities grow, change and develop, and by adulthood, it’s usually easy to pinpoint specific personality traits and ways of coping and interacting in society.
When a person develops dementia, a frequently seen side effect is that their personality changes. This is especially true in mid to late stage dementia, and it can cause a person to be barely recognizable to their loved ones in many ways. Coping with these changes is challenging and frustrating for many family caregivers. Understanding what’s happening to your loved one can make it easier to know what to expect and learn how to cope with personality changes. Here are a few tips.
Behavioral and Psychological Symptoms of Dementia (BPSD) is the medical term used to describe some of the changes that people with dementia sometimes experience. It’s important to note that not all of these symptoms apply to every individual. Even when they do, family caregivers often see them in varying degrees – or they may note them at certain times of day, see them happening quickly or view them as seemingly unpredictable.
The BPSD include:
- Aggressive or Threatening Behavior – Anger and hostility are often an indicator that a need is unmet but the person with dementia is unable to fully express what they need or why they need it.
- Anxiety – Worry or fear about the present, past or future.
- Apathy – A lack of desire to perform a specific task or take part in an activity.
- Delirium, Delusions and Hallucinations – These often seem very real to the person, to the point that they might convince even their family caregivers that they ARE real.
- Less Energy or Drive – A loss of motivation or willingness to try new things or maintain daily functioning.
- Impulsive Behavior – A very free and sometimes dangerous or unpredictable expression of self.
- Compulsive Behavior – A desire to repeatedly do something.
- Sleep Disruptions – Difficulty resting, falling asleep or staying asleep.
- Wandering – A desire to explore, search or move about even if doing so is unsafe.
Why Personality Changes Happen
While we understand some things about personality changes associated with dementia, we do not fully understand why they happen. However, researchers believe that the reasons behind these changes have to do with brain changes, body changes (infections, pain or medication changes), perception changes and frustrations related to social changes or stigma surrounding dementia. While the disease itself might make a person withdraw or lash out, it’s often not the disease but the lack of meaningful opportunities or the perception that meaningful activities are no longer possible that causes this behavior.
Seniors with dementia who have the right level of support, encouragement and positivity in their lives often experience less negative behaviors, which is an indication that meaningful support is key to helping them live better after their diagnosis.
Now that we have a basic understanding of the causes of dementia personality changes, what can we do to help our loved ones overcome them or work through them? If you notice a personality change, there are four steps you can take to decrease suffering and increase opportunities for a positive reaction.
Check for Unmet Needs
A person with dementia often cannot easily express their needs or understand how to best meet them. Family caregivers can do two things to help. First, try to anticipate needs so that they don’t go unmet. Second, if you start to see negative behaviors, look for:
- Unmet Physical Needs
- Is there an infection?
- Are there medication side effects?
- Do you note signs of any pain or discomfort?
- Unmet Social Needs
- Are family members and friends still visiting?
- Has the diagnosis changed your loved one’s ability to go to church or attend social functions?
- Is your loved one alone for much of the day while you work or care for other family members?
- Emotional Needs
- Is your loved one feeling insecure in their identity?
- Are they still finding cognitively appropriate opportunities for enrichment and growth?
- Do they feel empowered to remain autonomous with some daily tasks?
- Are they feeling a sense of connection to others?
- Do they find meaning in their life?
- Are there opportunities for joy and happiness?
Addressing Personality Changes
After you’ve discovered the unmet need, it’s time to get creative as to how to address it. This might involve having a discussion with your loved one’s doctor or asking family members to increase the level of support they’re offering. In some cases, bringing in a professional caregiver for additional support, supervision and assistance can help. You might need to look at changing around daily routines or looking for new ways to communicate with and support your loved one in maintaining their independence.
It’s never easy to accept the behavior changes that sometimes accompany a diagnosis of dementia, but understanding why they happen helps. It’s also essential to have the right level of support and ensure that your loved one’s care is personalized and empowering. Salus Homecare of San Fernando Valley is here to help. Whether your loved one was recently diagnosed or is coping with the challenges of later stage dementia, contact us. Let’s work together and develop a plan that is effective and improves quality of life for your family.