Experts Seek to Shift Perceptions of Behaviors Associated With Dementia Patients

Elderly individuals suffering from dementia often exhibit certain behaviors, such as aggression, agitation, or anxiety, which many people consider to be symptoms of dementia. However, experts have noted that categorizing these behaviors as ‘symptoms’ and applying such terminology to these behaviors may be misleading or mistaken. This is because research has demonstrated that many behavioral expressions by dementia patients are actually a result of certain situational triggers or due to physical, social, or psychological needs that are unmet. Therefore, experts are now recommending that the term ‘behavioral expression‘ be used in place of ‘behavior symptoms or problems.’
This is in hopes that a terminology shift will lead to a change in the methods caretakers implement when trying to address these behaviors, moving away from medication as the only treatment method. Experts believe that resorting to pharmacological methods and attributing dementia patients’ behavioral issues primarily to dementia alone will remove focus from the underlying social situations which may be triggering the behavior, thus placing the focus on the dementia patient’s brain pathology alone. However, focus should be placed upon improving dementia care through patient-centered, individualized methods.


By understanding that these behaviors are not actually symptoms but responses or expressions, caretakers can focus on addressing a dementia patient’s unmet needs and triggers to prevent behaviors such as screaming or aggression from occurring, rather than seeking pharmacological treatments to address them. Experts fear that qualifying these behaviors as ‘dementia symptoms’ will insinuate that these behaviors are specifically due to dementia, and thus, are inevitable effects that arise from a dementia diagnosis. However, research has shown that this is not true in a majority of cases. Rather, it has been found that other factors play significant roles when it comes to behavior, other than the cognitive impairment associated with dementia. For example, studies have shown that many of the behavioral issues that arise within dementia patients are a result of the care giving relationship, such as the amount of interaction between dementia patients and staff, the quality of interaction, along with the physical environment or setting. Thus, it is possible for issues arising from these factors to be addressed through social adjustments as well, rather than pharmacological treatments alone.

This focus on shifting away from primarily pharmacological treatments is in line with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ (CMS) recent initiative aimed at lowering the excessive and inappropriate use of antipsychotic medication. Nursing homes have exhibited a rise in inappropriate and dangerous use of antipsychotic medications, particularly with dementia patients, which can have dangerous implications including death. Thus, CMS sought to lower such use, promoting nonpharmacological interventions as a potential first line of treatment.

Unfortunately, many dementia patients residing in nursing homes are still administered anti-psychotic drugs unnecessarily to address behavioral issues despite such initiatives. If you believe that your loved one has been unnecessarily or inappropriately medicated, let us help ease your loved one’s suffering. Our experienced team of attorneys at the Law Offices of Ben Yeroushalmi firmly believes that your loved one’s well-being should be prioritized and that nursing home residents should receive proper, individualized care. Contact us today at (888) 606-3453 for a free consultation. We serve cities all across Northern and Southern California.