What are Behaviours in Dementia?

Dementia 101

Dementia is a chronic brain disorder that causes changes in a person’s memory, thinking, moods and behaviours. These changes often start small and worsen over time due to ongoing damage happening within the brain.

There are more than 70 types of dementia. The most common are Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia and Lewy body dementia. Each type of dementia includes different symptoms. Some types progress slowly and some types progress more quickly.

No two people will experience dementia in exactly the same way.

Changes in mood and behaviour related to dementia

Most people with dementia will experience changes in their moods and behaviours. These changes are called behaviours in dementia. Other terms used to describe this are the behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia (BPSD) or responsive behaviours.

It’s important to know that changed memory, thinking, moods or behaviours are not deliberate and they are not always a problem. Behaviours in dementia can be an attempt to communicate discomfort and distress when people with dementia have difficulty expressing their physical and emotional needs or making sense of their environment.

Watch our video overview to help you understand behaviours in dementia.

There are clinical words that health care providers use to describe dementia-related changes in mood and behaviour. In the Toolkit we have chosen to use different words and categories to describe mood and behaviour changes. These were developed in consultation with people living with dementia, care partners, researchers, and health care providers. The Toolkit labels focus on changes in the following moods and behaviours:

Read our pamphlet to learn more about behaviours in dementia here.

Not sure where to start? Browse our series of infographics highlighting resources relevant to different audiences and settings here.

Approaches to respond to behaviours in dementia

By paying close attention to patterns of moods or behaviours and exploring root causes of behaviour with compassion and curiosity, we can identify and meet the unspoken needs of people living with dementia.

If changes in mood or behaviour become concerning, it’s important to know that there are evidence-informed approaches that can help.

The most effective first response to behaviours in dementia is to engage a person living with dementia in meaningful activities to help them be active and support their connection with others. In health care, these interactive, social activities are often called psychosocial or non-pharmacological approaches.

Medications may be considered when physical or environmental reasons for behaviours in dementia are unclear, and interactive, social approaches do not help.

With support, people with dementia can lead active and fulfilling lives after their diagnosis.