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Changes in personality

Are you experiencing behaviour or personality changes with your loved one?

Dementia may cause your loved one to experience changes which are typically out of character. For example, this can be changes in communication or more pronounced mood swings.

But while nearly half of the people we surveyed were aware that dementia can cause significant changes in personality, only 30% said they’d be comfortable talking about their loved one’s changing behaviours. Understand more about this symptom of dementia with stories from families and Care UK’s experts in the video below. 

Why does dementia cause personality changes? 

If you notice a loved one living with dementia is acting in ways that seem out of character, for example changing what they eat or drink or saying things that don’t match their personal, cultural or religious beliefs, they may be experiencing changes in their personality. 

Behaviour or personality changes can be a result of changes in a person’s brain caused by their dementia, or because they have unmet needs that they’re unable to communicate, such as pain or boredom. When someone is living with dementia, changes in personality can develop slowly or suddenly, however this is usually in response to changes in circumstance like infection or pain.  

Read more about the types of behaviour changes commonly seen in dementia. here.

How to manage personality changes in dementia 

Changes in behaviour or personality can be difficult for family members and friends to understand, but it’s important to try putting yourself in your loved one's shoes to see if you can recognise why the behaviour has changed. 

To find the best way to support someone experiencing personality changes, it’s helpful to know about their life history. Our colleagues at Care UK are trained to learn all they can about residents’ former careers, interests, and hobbies so they can better support them with person-centred care

Here are a few examples of changes in behaviour or personality, why they could be happening and how to deal with them:

  • Your mum was a lifelong vegetarian, but now she’s eating meat off other people’s plates. She could have forgotten about her choice to stop eating meat and now eats it because it is what she wants, or it could even be that her visual perception has changed, and she can’t see her own plate. While you might find this upsetting, it’s important to meet your loved one where they are in the moment and to respect their choice as long as it’s not causing any harm. 
  • Your father, who used to work as a police officer, gets becomes distressed in the evenings and even shouts and swears. This could be because he feels bored or unfulfilled, or his memory loss could cause him to think he needs to be doing his former job. Supporting him to help around the home and check the rooms in the evenings could be a meaningful activity that gives him a sense of purpose and helps him feel calmer. 
  • Your friend who was religious throughout their life doesn’t pray anymore. It might be that the dementia’s impact on their memory is causing them to relive a time when this wasn’t as important to them, or perhaps they don’t celebrate an important spiritual event because they are confused about the date or time. At Care UK, we support people to remember and continue practising their religious and spiritual beliefs that are important to them. This could mean inviting the church in, going to church, organising small groups to come in so people can practice their beliefs or celebrating other religious occasions. 

 How to deal with distressed behaviours 

Out-of-character behaviours can be especially hard to deal with if they take an aggressive turn, either verbally or physically. These are often called ‘challenging behaviours’ or ‘aggressive behaviours’ in dementia, but at Care UK, we call them ‘distressed behaviours’.  

These behaviours can occur when a person living with dementia is struggling to communicate that they are confused, in pain or have other unmet needs. Remember, they can be just as challenging for the person living with dementia as they are for their loved ones who are supporting them. 

Read more about distressed behaviours, how to deal with them, and what you should and shouldn’t do and say to your loved one.

The Big Dementia Conversation 

We want to get the nation talking about dementia and some of the most difficult topics associated with the condition. Explore more articles in our online advice hub to take a closer look at the less-talked-about symptoms of dementia and how to navigate them. You can also discover more advice and support on our dementia help & advice page.