Treating behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia

Behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia

A person with dementia and their carer

Around 90 per cent of people with dementia experience aggression, agitation and psychosis (delusions and hallucinations). These symptoms are known as the behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia and can be very distressing for the person with dementia, their family and carers.

What causes behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia?

These symptoms can develop as part of the dementia, or they may be caused by a general health problem, for example, if the person is in pain or discomfort due to hunger, thirst or an infection. Symptoms can also be caused by problems related to the care the person is receiving, or their environment or social interactions. It is therefore very important to treat general health problems and pain and monitor changes in the person's living environment.

It is important to remember that the symptoms are linked to changes in the chemicals in the brain and that the person is not 'behaving badly' or to blame for their symptoms.

How can they be prevented?

Behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia can often be prevented through good person-centred care.

How should they be treated?

Simple approaches can be very effective in managing behavioural and psychological symptoms. Most symptoms improve within four weeks without the need for medication.

The first step is to ensure the person has an assessment of their symptoms and a health check to pick up any general health problems. The person's doctor may try a number of approaches depending on the severity of the symptoms.

  • For mild to moderate symptoms: Use person-centred care to develop soothing, creative and engaging activities and ideas for one-on-one time with the person. Review the person's care and environment and ensure their care plan is being followed.
  • For severe symptoms: More specific personalised activities based on the person's interests. Just ten minutes of social interaction per day can improve symptoms.

If these approaches have not been successful the doctor may prescribe an antipsychotic drug for up to 12 weeks.

Best practice guide

In 2011 Alzheimer's Society worked with the Department of Health to develop a best practice guide for health and social care professionals on the treatment and care of people with dementia experiencing behavioural and psychological symptoms. The content of this guide is now due for review and an updated version will be made available when this work has been completed.

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