Environmental triggers of challenging behaviours in dementia

James Hourihan, Author

It is widely known that our environment can have a huge impact on how we think, feel and behave. For people with a dementia-related disorder, the condition makes it harder to process and navigate their surroundings when the ability to function independently, make decisions or remember declines. 

This means creating an effective line of communication between themselves and others can prove difficult, leading to frustration, aggression, anxiety or withdrawal. During these sensitive situations, recognising environmental triggers and understanding an individual’s preferences is pivotal for caregivers to provide an optimal setting that supports more positive outcomes. 

What are environmental triggers?

Environmental triggers are external factors that can lead to challenging behaviours in dementia. These triggers can vary from person to person depending on their individual background and lifestyle. Examples include loud noises, changes in routine, overstimulation (too crowded, hot / cold temperatures and clutter), alongside unfamiliar people and furniture placement. 

Signs of environmental triggers 

In many cases, these manifest as changes in behaviour or mood. For example, if a dementia patient suddenly becomes agitated or confused, it could be due to something as simple as too much noise or too little light in the room. Additionally, changes in appetite or sleeping patterns (refusing meals or having difficulty falling asleep), could indicate they are uncomfortable with something in their environment.

Managing environmental triggers 

At Timian, we believe that building relationships are key when it comes to managing challenging behaviours in dementia, and the first step is getting to know the patient on a personal level – Do they like or dislike certain smells, tastes or objects? What makes them feel comfortable? Asking questions like this can provide valuable insight towards creating an individualised plan of action that anticipates and prevents some occurrences of challenging behaviour. This could involve:  

  • Adjusting lighting and temperature levels
  • Introducing calming music 
  • Provide familiar objects like photographs or mementos 
  • Giving plenty of personal space 
  • Regular access to fresh air, greenery and exercise
  • Avoid rearranging furniture 
  • Maintaining familiar routines as much as possible
  • Offering support through verbal cues with encouraging words

Guidance from Timian 

If you work as a social care worker, or healthcare provider and want to learn more about environmental triggers of challenging behaviours, book our positive behaviour management course. We teach staff to be more confident and skilled in supporting people in crisis for an improved quality of life using a person-centred model to create strategies that best match your unique organisational and service user needs. 

Call us today on 0800 987 4075 or fill in the form on our website here for more information.

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