Managing Personality and Behavior Changes in Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s disease causes brain cells to die, so the brain works less well over time. This changes how a person acts. This article has suggestions that may help you understand and cope with changes in personality and behavior in a person with Alzheimer’s disease.

Common Changes in Personality and Behavior
Common personality and behavior changes you may see include:

Getting upset, worried, and angry more easily
Acting depressed or not interested in things
Hiding things or believing other people are hiding things
Imagining things that aren’t there
Wandering away from home
Pacing a lot
Showing unusual sexual behavior
Hitting you or other people
Misunderstanding what he or she sees or hears
You also may notice that the person stops caring about how he or she looks, stops bathing, and wants to wear the same clothes every day.

Other Factors That Can Affect Behavior
In addition to changes in the brain, other things may affect how people with Alzheimer’s behave:

Feelings such as sadness, fear, stress, confusion, or anxiety
Health-related problems, including illness, pain, new medications, or lack of sleep
Other physical issues like infections, constipation, hunger or thirst, or problems seeing or hearing
Other problems in their surroundings may affect behavior for a person with Alzheimer’s disease. Too much noise, such as TV, radio, or many people talking at once can cause frustration and confusion. Stepping from one type of flooring to another or the way the floor looks may make the person think he or she needs to take a step down. Mirrors may make them think that a mirror image is another person in the room. For tips on creating an Alzheimer’s-safe home, visit Home Safety and Alzheimer’s Disease.

If you don’t know what is causing the problem, call the doctor. It could be caused by a physical or medical issue.

Keep Things Simple…and Other Tips
Caregivers cannot stop Alzheimer’s-related changes in personality and behavior, but they can learn to cope with them. Here are some tips:

Keep things simple. Ask or say one thing at a time.
Have a daily routine, so the person knows when certain things will happen.
Reassure the person that he or she is safe and you are there to help.
Focus on his or her feelings rather than words. For example, say, “You seem worried.”
Don’t argue or try to reason with the person.
Try not to show your frustration or anger. If you get upset, take deep breaths and count to 10. If it’s safe, leave the room for a few minutes.
Use humor when you can.
Give people who pace a lot a safe place to walk. Provide comfortable, sturdy shoes. Give them light snacks to eat as they walk, so they don’t lose too much weight, and make sure they have enough to drink.
Try using music, singing, or dancing to distract the person.
Ask for help. For instance, say, “Let’s set the table” or “I need help folding the clothes.”
Talk with the person’s doctor about problems like hitting, biting, depression, or hallucinations. Medications are available to treat some behavioral symptoms.

Read about this topic in Spanish. Lea sobre este tema en español.

For More Information About Personality and Behavior Changes in Alzheimer’s
NIA Alzheimer’s and related Dementias Education and Referral (ADEAR) Center
[email protected]
The NIA ADEAR Center offers information and free print publications about Alzheimer’s and related dementias for families, caregivers, and health professionals. ADEAR Center staff answer telephone, email, and written requests and make referrals to local and national resources.
Explore the portal for information and resources on Alzheimer’s and related dementias from across the federal government.

Alzheimer’s Association
866-403-3073 (TTY)
[email protected]

This content is provided by the NIH National Institute on Aging (NIA). NIA scientists and other experts review this content to ensure it is accurate and up to date.