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Non-Verbal Communication: Managing Unwanted Behaviors

Is your loved one “acting out” or behaving in ways you don’t understand – like undressing in public or acting aggressively toward family or friends? Due to the cognitive decline caused by dementia, affected individuals may no longer be able to verbally communicate their wants, needs and emotions. As a result, they may use actions or behaviors to express themselves.

Learn more about these behaviors and how to manage them.

Non-Verbal Communication

Dementia negatively impacts the way a person thinks, behaves, communicates and interacts with their environment and others. As the condition progresses, a person with dementia will lose the ability to use speech effectively and understand words. This can be extremely frustrating, confusing and limiting for your loved one on a physical, mental and emotional level. However, individuals with dementia cope and adapt the best they can with the abilities they still have – such as communicating through their behaviors when speech is difficult. While these physical expressions may be a natural reaction for them, these actions or behaviors may be unwanted or distressing to you or others.

Examples of disruptive behaviors include:

  • Wandering, pacing or fidgeting
  • Inappropriate sexual behavior
  • Rummaging
  • Sundown syndrome
  • Paranoia, hallucinations and delusions
  • Anger and agitation

Factors that increase these behaviors:

  • New environment or changes in environment
  • Undiagnosed pain or discomfort
  • Overstimulation (e.g., anxiety or feeling overwhelmed) or under stimulation (e.g., boredom or loneliness)
  • Depression, sadness or stress
  • A negative approach from anyone
  • Tiredness later in the day

Ways to Manage

Realizing your loved one isn’t giving you a hard time but having a hard time can really reframe your perspective and help you better cope with these changes. Also, understanding that not every action needs a reaction – some behaviors will need your attention, reassurances and redirections while other behaviors will not – can ensure you are providing the compassionate care they need while still allowing them to feel heard.

Decode behaviors and identify triggers: Understand what is the underlying cause of the behavior.

Watch for subtle changes or signs of escalating behaviors: Such as clenched fists, frowning or scowling, rapid eye movements, muttering under his/her breath or yelling

Redirect their attention: Distract your loved one from what he/she is upset about long enough for them to forget what was upsetting.

Actively listen and validate their concerns: Use their words and emotions, letting them know they were heard and you understand.

Develop a routine: Familiarity and structure can lessen behavioral occurrences.

Watch your tone and present positive body language: They will always be able to sense the emotions of others and process body language, tone of voice and facial expressions.

Change faces in caregiving: Ask someone else in the house to take over or call a trusted partner/friend.

Provide emotional reassurance: Try new ways of spending time together and showing love/affection, including nonsexual ways of touching (e.g., hand massages, hugs, etc.).

Join Us For a Free Event

We invite you and your loved one with dementia to give us a try! Join us for one of our upcoming free programs to experience the joy that can be found in every day at the James L. West Senior Day Program.