How does the personality of someone with dementia change?

15 answers | Last updated: Nov 14, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

How does dementia change someone's personality?


Expert Answers

Joanne Koenig Coste is a nationally recognized expert on Alzheimer's care and an outspoken advocate for patient and family care. She is the author of Learning to Speak Alzheimer's. Also, she currently is in private practice as an Alzheimer's family therapist. Ms. Koenig Coste also serves as President of Alzheimer Consulting Associates, implementing state-of-the-art Alzheimer care throughout the United States.

Most people with dementia retain the essence of their pre-disease personality. In fact their personality seems to be exaggerated - a sweet young person appears to be even more gentle with Alzheimer's and 'the boss' becomes more controlling. Many people however show drastic personality changes, particulary those folks with the dementias that effect the frontal lobe such as Pick's disease, while folks with Lewybody disease may be prone to visual hallucinations causing them to react uncharacteristically.


People often develop uncharacteristic behavioral symptoms in the middle stage of Alzheimer's disease, including agitation, aggression, delusions such as imagining they are being threatened, and paranoia believing that family members are stealing from them or hiding lost objects such as glasses or keys. As control and inhibition are lost, some people with AD do things that are totally uncharacteristic of personality before the disease. Swearing (yes, even precious sweet elderly ladies!), spitting, becoming socially inept and impulsive with innapropriate words or actions, and sexual advances may appear for some folks.

Other common personality changes include:

  • Apathy and loss of interest in former pleasures
  • Difficulty making decisions and iniating tasks
  • Social withdrawal
  • Impatience and a quick temper
  • Insensitivity to others
  • Accusations or paranoia

Most of these personality changes are short lived and are caused by the disease process and not by the person's intent to be different. It helps to repeat "it is the disease not my loved one" that is making these aberrent behaviors.


Community Answers

Lisbeth answered...

My mom, mid-80s with early dementia, has been living with us for awhile, now, and although it's been a lot of work, things have been wonderful. She was extremely self-absorbed all her life, but now that she has dementia, she has become much more interested in others and has really made an effort to 'roll with the flow' in our household, which is very different from anything she's ever lived in.

One example - we got my mom, the quintessential 'neat freak', a small-breed puppy for Christmas. The puppy was playing with her on her bed and peed on her treasured duvet. I was horrified, expecting a bad reaction, and ran for a towel to clean it up. However, my mom just laughed and said 'he's so cute!' I almost died of shock - this is not the same woman I grew up with.

From my reading I gather that most of the personality changes precipitated by dementia are pretty undesirable, but they don't always have to be. My mom is, for the most part, no longer critical, picky, rigid, anxious, or negative - attributes that characterized her to an almost pathological degree in the past. I have never enjoyed her so much, and we are closer than we've ever been.


Gunther answered...

My mom is 86 and has been unruly the last couple of weeks. Making irrational decisions, false accusations, etc.....She was always a tough kind of controlling person to deal with....things now seem a lil worse. That's so cute about the puppy. I'm sure she enjoys it so much.

Best Heidi


A fellow caregiver answered...

I really do not know an answer but my mothers friend who has been bed-ridden for the last 5 years, yesterday woke up and wanted to walk to the kitchen. They put her on her wheel chair to go to the kitchen, then suddenly she realized she could not walk, it was nerve wracking they called 911 because she started sweating. No one has mentioned Alzheimer's but I think it maybe? What do you think? can someone give me some advice?


Nancym answered...

My mom has been much easier to get along with for a couple of years now (she's in late stage 6). Over the past week she has become extremely anxious, and I believe this is just the disease. We are heading to the doctor tomorrow to talk about it, but my gut feeling is she is declining again. Her decline over the past six months has been very rapid. I'm anticipating that she will not know me soon, and that will be tough to take. This is a dreadful disease!!


Suzyq5558 answered...

My MIL lives with us and is driving us crazy!! she had several large strokes 12 yrs. ago and has had numerous small one since. she can walk but its a shuffle type walk with a cane has trouble with words. lately her behavior has become awful! her husband passed away 16 days ago and she was terrible through the whole thing cursing at the hospice helpers being very cold to her husband as he was passing, it gave me nightmares. anyhow the past two weeks she accused a family friend of 32 yrs of stealing a heirloom clock and will not let it go i asked her to stop talking about it but she wont. now she's doing the weirdest things like interrupting us in the middle of a conversation and talking about something completely off topic to what was being discussed. she also told her grandson that her husbands ghost was going to go get the family friend over the clock!! he asked me if she had gone loony or something. i really think she has something going on. and its making all of us nuts.


Nate answered...

Our Mom is in the later part of Stage 6. She is quite anxious, paranoid and sometimes has hallucinations:( All of these symptoms make her hyperventilate and break out in a sweat; as well as pace constantly. We do our best to redirect her during these moments by changing the conversation, asking her a question or just giving her a loving hug. For the most part she does not recognize us as her daughters, just someone she knows, maybe a friend. We take solace in the fact that somewhere she realizes we that we love her and are there to take care of her. It is hard to handle her not knowing we are her daughters, but at least she is not throwing us out of her home thinking we are total strangers, so we are able to still spend time with her. There was a time when she didn't recoginze us and did ask us to leave her home; that was heartbreaking:( This disease in my estimation drastically changes the person; it has my/our Mom.


Michael252 answered...

I have been spending more time with my dad since I am now retired and trying to help him transition into an assisted living residence due to his dementia. We do not have a diagnosis for Alzheimers. He has spent a lot of time talking about his life and reflecting on events and how he had wished he had done things differently, for the better. He was never an open person to share his feelings and has also politely asked about mine. Mind you these bonding times are repeated with each visit. I have learned a lot lately about us both.


Sydnee b answered...

Dementia is clearly a life altering ailment for those affected and their families alike. While there is no "cure" for Dementia in general, there are helpful "treatments" including mental stimulation, physical exercise and alternative therapy. What better way to provide treatments than have a professionally trained, in home care professional stay with an affected individual. The companionship provides stimulation while allowing the person to maintain a certain quality of life within the comfort of their own home. Visit http://www.constantcompanions.net for more information about San Diego senor care and San Diego home care.


Happyhen answered...

When my husband was in the final phases of dementia or Alzheimers and people would tell me how sorry they felt for me, I would tell them they should have felt sorry for me several years ago when it first started and he was mean.


Momof8 answered...

My mother in law is 90 and living with us . She used to be a very prim and proper woman. Now she lies all the time, sneaks around stealing food when no one is looking, refuses to bath and somehow has forgot ton about personal hygiene and craps all over the toilet and then the sink because she refuses to wash her hands. When confronted with her indescretions, she blames my children. This Christmas when the family was all home, we had to hide all the cookies because she was up at 2:00 a.m. gorging on them. She has diabetes and shouldn't have that much sugar. Tonight she went into the bathroom and was in there for an hour. When she came out, there was poop all over the toilet and sink. When we confronted her about it, she said that my daughter had done it. She lies all the time. We are at our wits end.


Irish girl answered...

My Mam has been living with me and my husband for a year now. Now and again she get agitated the usual I must go home scenario so we just say yeah bit late now in the morning and it's forgotten about. I found that hard at first as I was always explaining why and how long she was here it just turned into an argument and left me upset so I do it the easy way now. I find putting her to bed is hard my husband needs to be up early in the morning and we put her to bed early but she can easily be upstairs for two hours walking around, pulling out drawers emptying clothes putting things away. I sometimes have to go up at 12.30 to say it's very late and we are trying to sleep she takes offence to that as she doesnt want to be given out to. She says to me if she was in her own house she could do what she wants and not disturb us but I have to explain to her that she can't live on her own because of her condition. Its a vicious circle. She also accuses me of lying when to be honest I think she prefer to think that that think her own short term memory is gone and cant remember what doctors told her.


Hank sr answered...

my mom is 79 yrs old and since my dad died 6 months ago, she has gotten progressively more unstable.She has acused myself and my family of stealing and has physically tried to attack me.I have two siblings..one of them sees these changes where as the other one denies that there is anything wrong.My mom has turned over all of her financial things to the sibling who believes nothing is wrong with her.She has totally cut off communication with our family.If she does call us it is when she knows we are at work and then leaves the nastiest of messages..then it can be 2 minutes later or 2 hours later she will leave a new message like the 1st one never happened.Her moods can switch on the drop of a hat.I'm afraid to call her because I don't want to agitate her..and I can't see her because I'm afraid she'll try to attack me again.My dad and my family were so close..my mom has said that her and dad always hated my family.I don't want to lose my mom in my life.But I don't know how to handle this


Wendylu answered...

We are just starting out in this journey with my mom who is relatively young (71 years old). Her behavior has become very strange over the last couple of weeks, and completely out of character for her, cursing all the time, being very hateful and angry about everything. I was looking for answers... You have all been very helpful with your life stories, and I am grateful you shared !! This has been the most difficult time of my and my family's lives, and I know we are just beginning.


A fellow caregiver answered...

My mum can go through several behaviour changes from cold and indifferent to being so scared and vunerable of dying. She can be accusing and say we don't care nor understand which we do, she suffers from a few minor ailments which she dramatises and exaggerates. When she thinks we not watching she absolutely fine watching tv but if she hears a creak of the floor boards she puts on an act of being in so much pain whereas she was ok when unaware of us. She still recognises me and my sisters throughout every change.