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Behaviour Change in Older Adults

Behavioural Supports Ontario (BSO) recognizes that all behaviour has meaning and that responsive behaviours are often a form of communication of an unmet need for an older adult living with dementia, complex mental illness, substance use and/or other neurological disorder.

Responsive Behaviours

Responsive behaviours is a term that is often preferred by persons with dementia, mental health, substance use and/or other neurological disorders to describe how their actions, words and gestures are a response to something important in their personal, social or physical environment (Alzheimer Society of Ontario, 2014). These behaviours are often a result of changes in the brain affecting memory, judgement, orientation and mood.

While the term ‘challenging behaviour’ or ‘behaviour that challenges’ is a term that is often also used, the term responsive is preferred as it encourages health care providers and other care partners to focus more on what can be done to make change rather than the behaviour’s impact.

Examples of responsive behaviours include but are not limited to:

  • Hitting
  • Grabbing onto people
  • Pushing
  • Throwing things
  • Biting
  • Scratching
  • Spitting
  • Hurting self or others
  • Tearing things or destroying property
  • Sexually expressive behaviours
  • Negativism
  • Kicking
  • Pacing / Wandering
  • Trying to get to a different place
  • Eating/drinking inappropriate substances
  • Hiding / Hoarding
  • Performing repetitious mannerisms
  • General restlessness
  • Screaming
  • Cursing
  • Repetitive sentences or questions

For more information, videos and tips regarding specific responsive behaviours, visit the Alzheimer Society's website.

Are you worried about changes in someone's behaviour? Click here to contact your regional BSO Team.