Understanding the challenging behaviours of dementia

NeuRA’s Dr Moyra Mortby presented at Uniting War Memorial Hospital’s free seminar on Healthy Brains this week.

Dr Mortby shared her research into the neuropsychiatric symptoms of dementia. These are the challenging behaviours associated with dementia such as delusions, sleep disturbances, anxiety and agitation.

“Neuropsychiatric symptoms are a diverse group of non-cognitive symptoms of dementia that are characterised by disturbed perception, thought content, mood or behaviour,” says Dr Mortby.

“They are common in all types of dementia and are intrinsic to the illness progression.”

Almost all people living with dementia will have at least one neuropsychiatric symptom at some point over the course of the illness.

Estimates suggest that neuropsychiatric symptoms of dementia are present in 29-90 per cent of nursing home residents in Australia and up to 95 per cent of long-term acute care hospitalised patients.

Dr Mortby says one cause of neuropsychiatric symptoms can be unmet needs.

“Dementia diminishes the ability to communicate wants and needs as a result of limitations with language, movement and memory. Without the ability to communicate verbally, individuals may resort to using behaviours.

“It is important to remember that failure to have basic needs met, along with an inability to communicate easily and effectivity can result in behaviours,” she says.

The presentation of symptoms varies widely between types of dementia and within the individual. When left untreated, they can lead to hastened progression of dementia, worsened daily function and poorer quality of life.

“Neuropsychiatric symptoms have profound physical and psychological impact on both the person experiencing them as well as their carers. Support mechanisms and respite are much-needed,” says Dr Mortby.

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