DEMENTIA BEHAVIORS – WHAT IS THE FIRST QUESTION TO ASK

To know if this is really a dementia behavior, ask the question, “What if this person was 20 instead of 80 years old?” This is a question I frequently ask caregivers when they report a elder with dementia as having “behaviors.” Because if this activity or response wouldn’t be a behavior for someone 20 why should it be for someone 80.

“Mary keeps standing up.”  That is the behavior the caregiver reports about her patient Mary. Well, I asked the caregiver,  “do you keep standing up?”  “Of course I stand up, all day I am getting up and down,” the caregiver shared.  While it is more than normal to want to stand and walk. The caregiver being afraid the elder will fall if walking unattended, will often standing up to be a dementia behavior.

Just standing up, might mean the elder needs a meaningful activity and she is bored. It could be that the elder wants to get away from something such as; too much activity, too much talk, too much stimulation. It could be that all of a sudden the elder realizes she is hungry or thirsty, and just stands up to get something for herself. Or what is frequently true in Mary’s case, she just has to go to the bathroom.

Rose was over 100, and really looked good for her age. She was cared for by a live-in caregiver, and Rose always looked company ready. But once ready in the morning, Rose was seated on the couch in the TV room. The caregiver enjoyed spending her day watching daytime dramas and game shows.

Rose had vision and hearing problems, and couldn’t follow these shows. Rose wasn’t even a fan of such programming, she was too polite to say she didn’t like the caregiver’s programs.  So Rose would often just stand up to go do something else. The day was spent with Rose standing and the caregiver telling her to sit down.

For a behavior to be a dementia behavior, the question to ask is, is this activity trying to tell me something? Is there a need that is not being met? Is the elder trying to fulfill an emotional need? Is the elder trying to fulfill a physical need? What is being sought? And in the case of Rose, is the elder trying to get away from something?

Whatever the dementia behavior is, first stop and think of that question, would this be normal for a 20 year old?

Virginia Garberding RN

Certified in Gerontology and Restorative Nursing