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Original Research

Recognition and Management of Behavioral Disturbances in Dementia

Abhilash K. Desai, MD, and George T. Grossberg, MD

Published: June 1, 2001

Article Abstract

Behavioral disturbances are seen in most patients with dementia at some point in their course. They cause immense patient suffering and are responsible for caregiver stress, institutionalization, and hospitalization. Identification of predisposing and precipitating factors is very important. The approach to the management of behavioral disturbances in dementia patients should be structured and thorough. Ensuring the safety of the patient and others should be paramount. Addressing the causes of behavioral disturbances such as comorbid medical illnesses, polypharmacy, pain, personal need, environmental factors, etc. is critical to a successful outcome. Many behavioral disturbances such as wandering and hoarding are not amenable to pharmacotherapy. Nonpharmacologic interventions are the mainstay of managing behavioral disturbances. Success of pharmacologic interventions will depend on accurate identification of specific syndromes, e.g., depression-anxiety and psychosis and severity of symptoms. Response to pharmacologic interventions is usually modest and may be associated with significant symptom resolution. Many behavioral disturbances can be prevented by avoiding inappropriate medications and educating patient, family, caregivers, and health care providers. Hospitalization can be avoided and institutionalization delayed by early recognition and treatment of behavioral disturbances. Leadership from physicians to implement preventive measures is recommended. Research to clarify the biological underpinnings of behavioral disturbances and to address cost-effectiveness of currently identified interventions is needed.

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