Can dementia change personality?

2 answers | Last updated: Nov 23, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

Can dementia change personality? There are many times when it's obvious that she knows what she is doing, especially when she is angry. She is combative and screams for hours at a time. How do we handle dementia personality changes?

Expert Answers

Beth Spencer is a social worker in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with more than 25 years of experience with families who have a member with dementia. She is coauthor of Understanding Difficult Behaviors and Moving a Relative with Memory Loss: A Family Caregiver's Guide. Previously, she directed Silver Club, early-stage and adult day programs serving individuals with Alzheimer's disease and related illnesses.

Dementia can, indeed, change a person’s personality if the part of the brain where personality is lodged is damaged. Sometimes there are situations or people that are triggering this behavior. It can be helpful to keep a log of when and under what conditions she gets so angry and out of control. Is it around a particular task, such as bathing? A particular time (or times) of day? The way someone is talking to her? Is she in pain that she can’t express? There are many possible causes of these behaviors. The Alzheimer’s Association offers a way to think through what is happening.

It's also important to enlist some medical help here as you are describing some very difficult behaviors. Ask her physician about medications that might help. It's uncomfortable for her to be in that much distress;  sometimes a medication can be helpful in taking the edge off.   

Community Answers

Frena answered...

while i've certainly seen personality changes going with dementia (becoming more relaxed and pleasant, as previous stressors are forgotten; or becoming more fearful and lonely), the kind of behaviors you are describing absolutely need further medical and psychiatric investigation. screaming and rageful for hours is absolutely NOT a usual manifestation of dementia. it IS a sign that you all need more expert help. your Mom sounds more mentally ill than demented -- maybe she has PTSD from early abuse, maybe she's severely allergic to some medication, maybe she's had a lifelong serious mental illness that no-one has talked about. whichever it is, you need much help and it is available to your Mom who sounds distressed and frightened to the max. Now's the time to seek peace for her. Get a referral to a psychiatrist and follow through from there. you might not believe it now, but real help and relief is available for her and only you (and other family caregivers there) can get it for her. when she gets help, you'll be relieved too, believe me. this is not dementia, it is a major pleading for help. good luck to you and know that real peace could be hers (and yours).