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Understanding early signs of dementia behaviour changes

Dementia advice

Changes in behaviour can be an early sign of dementia. 

For family members and friends, these changes in behaviour can be difficult to deal with. When a loved one makes choices or says things that don’t line up with the personal, cultural, or religious beliefs you know them for, it might feel like the person you know, and love is gone.

Your mum might have been a lifelong vegetarian, but suddenly she wants to eat meat. Or your dad, who was gentle and softspoken before his dementia diagnosis, might begin to swear or make rude remarks.

It’s important to remember that your loved one is still there. Their dementia will be changing their brain in a way that causes them to say and do things they normally wouldn’t, or the effects of other symptoms of dementia, such as confusion and memory loss, this can leave them feeling frustrated or anxious, causing them to react in unexpected ways.

What are the first signs of dementia personality changes?

Whilst the early signs of dementia can include short-term memory loss, or changing abilities to do relatively simple tasks, a small proportion of people may behave in more unexpected ways including: your loved one using words they normally wouldn’t, such as swearing or losing their filter, becoming frustrated or angry more easily, showing more sexualised behaviours or starting new relationships, or changing what or how they like to eat or drink. For some, changes in behaviour may never happen, others develop  slowly, and for some behaviours change suddenly usually as a response to changes in circumstances including infection or pain.

When someone is living with dementia, behaviour changes that seem out of character can occur because of changes in their brain, or because they have unmet needs, such as pain, boredom or a loss of sense of self. It’s important to try to understand what can be done to better meet their needs. 

For example, your loved one might be frustrated because they can’t articulate their feelings, they could be anxious because they don’t know where they are, or they might want to start a new relationship with someone because they are looking for comfort. 

The environment where a person lives can also trigger different behaviours, as your loved one might find it over-stimulating or confusing.

Everyone is different and responds differently to dementia. It’s important to meet your loved one where they are and try to understand their behaviour. At Care UK, our dedicated carers are trained to put themselves in the shoes of people living with dementia. They learn each resident’s life history; knowledge of previous careers, interests and hobbies can play a huge role in how a person living with dementia responds to a situation and why behaviours change. For example, a former police officer who becomes agitated in the evenings can be given a sense of purpose when they are supported with the responsibility to help around the home, checking rooms and reliving their days of protecting others.

Types of behaviour changes from dementia

Dementia affects every person differently, but some of the most common changes in personality and behaviour include:

  • Walking with purpose 
  • Loss of inhibitions, including with vocabulary used, loss of social awareness and inappropriate displays of love and affection.
  • Making choices that don’t match their personal, cultural, or religious beliefs.
  • Changes in sexual behaviour
  • Obsessive compulsive behaviours
  • Suddenly becoming angry or aggressive 
  • Changes in mood, for example becoming depressed, fearful, or anxious.
  • Withdrawing from social life

Vascular dementia personality changes

There are many different types of dementia, but the second-most-common type (after Alzheimer’s disease) is vascular dementia. There are three different types of vascular dementia, each of which are caused by changes in the brain, such as small strokes or a disease of the blood vessels.

The early signs of vascular dementia include trouble making decisions or solving problems, difficulty concentrating and problems recalling names, recent events, or words. As the condition progresses, people living with vascular dementia may act in ways that seem out of character. As mentioned above, this can be caused by the dementia or a result of unmet needs that the person is unable to communicate.

Dementia-related behaviour changes can happen in people living with other types of dementia, including frontotemporal dementia, when the frontal lobes of the brain, which control how we behave and our emotions, are damaged.


Dementia affects every individual differently. The condition itself and its symptoms can cause confusion, memory loss, difficulty concentrating, personality changes, mood swings, a loss of inhibitions, obsessive tendencies, changes in likes and dislikes and more.

At Care UK, our teams support people who are living with dementia to continue to live fulfilling lives. Read more about our approach to dementia care.

Changes in personality appear in every person differently. Some people living with dementia may become frustrated if they can’t live as independently as they would like or anxious if they become confused. Others may begin to lose their inhibitions and say things that seem out of character or inappropriate.

Behaviour change is one of many possible symptoms of dementia. Changes in behaviour may occur very slowly over years, or suddenly as a result of infection, pain or a change in circumstances.

Changes in behaviour can be an early symptom of young onset dementia, also known as early onset dementia or working age dementia.