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Alzheimer’s Disease: Managing Behavior Symptoms without Medication

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People with Alzheimer’s may benefit from some of the non-drug approaches to managing behavior symptoms in an effort to promote physical and emotional comfort. Many of these strategies aim to identify and address needs that the person has difficulty expressing as the disease progresses.

Identifying the cause of the problem and/or how the symptoms affect the Alzheimer patient’s experience is also very important. For example, monitor the patient’s comfort by maintaining a comfortable room temperature, checking for pain, constipation, fatigue, any skin irritations, hunger, thirst and/or any infections.

It’s also important to determine whether the person with Alzheimer's disease is just in a bad mood or whether the person is having further symptoms of the disease.

Avoid being confrontational or arguing about unimportant facts. For example, if a person expresses a desire to go to a specific store, don’t point out that the store went out of business five years ago. Rather, you might want to say “That was a great store. I’d love to go there, too.”

Listen to the person’s requests and respond to them. Also, try redirecting the patient by responding to the emotion rather than the behavior. In addition, it may be necessary to change the environment to resolve challenges and obstacles to comfort, security and peace of mind.

Try to maintain a calm environment free from loud noises and/or too much background distraction (e.g., television). And, allow the patient to rest between tiring and/or stimulating events.

Many people with Alzheimer’s experience changes in their sleep patterns. While scientists do not completely understand why this happens, sleep changes somehow result from the impact that Alzheimer’s disease has on the brain.

There is evidence that sleep changes are more common in later stages of the disease, but some studies have also found them in early stages. People with Alzheimer’s disease may feel very drowsy during the day and not be able to sleep at night.

They often become restless or agitated in the late afternoon or early evening. In the late stages of Alzheimer’s, patients often spend about half of their time at night awake and a significant part of their daylight hours sleeping.

In extreme cases, people may have a complete reversal of the typical nighttime sleep pattern.

Non-drug treatments seek to create a regular sleep routine, improve the sleeping environment and reduce daytime napping. Non-drug sleep strategies include eliminating alcohol, caffeine and/or nicotine, increasing morning sunlight exposure and encouraging regular exercise (more than four hours before bedtime).

In addition, regular mealtime, bedtime and waking time schedule creates a pattern for the body to emulate. Moreover, it’s suggested that the bed be used only for sleep. Therefore, if the person awakens, discourage him/her from staying in the bed while awake.

In addition, for some reason, television is associated with sleep irregularities for Alzheimer’s patients. Therefore, consider discouraging the person with Alzheimer’s from watching television while awake.


Treatments for Sleep Changes. Web. www.alz.org. Accessed 09 Jan. 2012. http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_10429.asp#treatment

Treatments for Alzheimer’s Disease. Web. www. Alz.org. Accessed 09 Jan. 2012. http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_treatments.asp

For Edge on Alzheimer’s, Testing Early Treatments. Web. www.nytimes.com. Accessed 09 Jan. 2012. http://www.nytimes.com/ref/health/healthguide/alzheimers_ess.html

Reviewed January 9, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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