Behaviour that challenges - looking after yourself

Read about how to maintain your own wellbeing when supporting a person with dementia with behaviour that challenges.

Changes in the person’s behaviour can be challenging, frustrating and often very upsetting. Over time, this can lead to you feeling more exhausted. It can have a big impact on your physical and mental health and general wellbeing. That’s why it’s important that you look after yourself – both for your own sake and so you can continue to care for the person with dementia. Support is available. Do seek help if you need it.

It is very important to get support if the person you are caring for is acting aggressively. You might feel guilty about this and think you should be able to cope on your own, but every carer will need help as a person’s dementia progresses. It’s important to keep yourself and others safe. If the person behaves aggressively less often it will lead to a better relationship between you and them and a better quality of life for you both.

Coping with challenging behaviour - tips for carers

Everyone is different and finding your own ways to cope will be unique to you. The following suggestions may help, both when the behaviour is happening and over a longer period:

  • Try to remember that the person is not behaving this way on purpose. It’s important not to take it personally. They may be experiencing a different reality to you, and are responding to their needs. Look at the person’s body language and try to understand what they might be feeling at that time.
  • Try to adapt to the situation as it is. Trying to get things back to the way they were before, or expecting too much of the person, can cause more problems.
  • If you begin to feel frustrated or angry, try stepping away from the situation. Give yourself time and space to calm down. If you do lose your temper, try not to feel guilty. It’s a very stressful situation that you are dealing with.
  • If the behaviour is disrupting an activity, such as washing or dressing, ask yourself if this task really needs to be done right now or if you could come back to it later. Sometimes it’s best to leave the person to do things how they want to, as long as this will not cause any harm.
  • Consider whether the behaviour is really a problem. For example, in some situations talking to strangers may not be a problem. The person may be meeting a need to be sociable and the stranger may be happy to talk to them.
  • It may help to explain to other people why the person is behaving in a certain way. They may be more understanding and may even have some suggestions to help find solutions. It may also be useful for the person to carry one of our Helpcards to show people. 
  • If the person is behaving aggressively, try not to let yourself build up resentment towards the person. Even if the behaviour seems to be aimed at you, it doesn’t mean that their feelings for you have changed. Take time to help yourself recover, both immediately after any aggressive behaviour and over a longer period.

Talk to someone about the situation and how you are feeling. This might be a friend, professional or another carer. Online discussion forums can be a good way of sharing your feelings and getting practical suggestions. For example, try Talking Point

Talking therapies can also be helpful. 

It’s important that you’re able to have a break from time to time. For example, you could ask friends or family members to spend some time with the person. You may also want to find out about options such as local day centres, clubs or professional care. Find out about respite care in EnglandWales or Northern Ireland.

Carers - looking after yourself

More information about looking after yourself when you're supporting a person with dementia.

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