Danger & Dementia: Keeping Your Spouse Safe Through Challenging Behaviors


In the middle and later stages of dementia, symptoms often develop beyond occurrences of mild memory loss, confusion and cognitive difficulties into behaviors that are challenging for caregivers to handle. These challenging behaviors are not only strenuous on the caregiver, but they also have a greater risk of threatening a loved one’s safety.

Being a full-time caregiver for a spouse with dementia is no easy task, but once behaviors such as wandering, suspicion or depression begin, it becomes increasingly difficult for caregivers to keep their spouse out of harm’s way. Considering that many of those caring for a spouse with dementia are also in their retirement years – and managing the health and lifestyle changes that go along with aging – it’s extremely important to learn how to keep both your loved one and yourself safe from the symptoms of their disease.

If you’re caring for a spouse in mid- to late-stage dementia, you can prioritize their safety by learning about and managing the most challenging behaviors that can accompany the disease.

Where Does the Danger Come From?

While memory loss alone can lead to dangerous situations, dementia causes many other serious symptoms that influence behavior. As cognitive functioning decreases, those suffering from dementia are more likely to exhibit symptoms of poor judgement, confusion, agitation and distress as they try to cope with the changes they’re experiencing.

Registered nurse and Alzheimer’s writer Christine Kennard discusses the dangerous behaviors associated with dementia in her article, “Mental Health Month: Caregiver Guide to Dangerous Behaviors in Alzheimer’s.” Kennard writes:

As Alzheimer’s disease progressively causes more and more brain damage and neuron cell death, it can lead to behavior totally out of character for that person. Alzheimer’s is associated with impairments of judgement and this can result in the person affected being unable to work out the consequences of their acts. Alzheimer’s disease also reduces the person’s capacity to reason and they are unable to appreciate how their behavior affects others.

In the same capacity that a loved one’s dementia can threaten the safety of those around them, the symptoms of their disease cause a major threat to their own safety and well-being.

Challenging Behaviors and How to Manage Them

Wandering – People with dementia can easily become confused or disoriented, which can often lead to wandering away. Whether they think they need to go to work even though they’ve been retired for years or become agitated in a crowd, wandering behaviors can lead a loved one toward a dangerous situation. Fortunately, there are ways to manage this behavior:

  • Make sure your spouse’s needs are met, so they don’t wander in search of the bathroom or kitchen and end up getting lost.
  • Keep car keys, their wallet or purse or whatever they wouldn’t leave home without out of sight.
  • Keep doors and windows locked, or disguise exterior doors by hanging a curtain or painting them the same color as the wall.
  • Make sure your spouse isn’t alone for long periods of time.
  • Create a daily routine so your spouse is engaged and less likely to become restless.

Hallucinations & Delusions – Dementia can cause a person to hallucinate or believe in situations that aren’t real. Usually, these symptoms are more frustrating than threatening. While the best thing you can do in this situation is to help keep your spouse calm and reassured, severely troubling symptoms may require professional help or medication. If your spouse believes that they are in danger or is hearing voices, seek help from their doctor before their delusions put them at risk of harming themselves or others.

Anger & Suspicion – Since dementia makes it hard for someone to think rationally, they may become easily upset or suspicious of those around them. If handled poorly, these emotions could lead to dangerous actions and behavior. If your spouse is angry, try to identify the source of their anger and do what you can to fix it. Stay calm and try to shift their attention to something else. Avoid using restraint or force unless the situation is serious.

Confusion & Cognitive Impairment – The most debilitating symptoms of dementia can become an issue of safety. Your spouse may forget to turn off the stove. They may forget where they’re going while driving or disregard traffic laws. They may also fall victim to scammers who target vulnerable seniors. Be on the lookout for signs that your spouse’s actions and behaviors are putting them at risk of harm, and adjust your care plan accordingly.

Depression – Depression is quite common for people living with dementia. In addition to emotional turmoil, depression can cause poor health habits for your loved one. They may develop poor sleeping or eating habits or stop taking care of their hygiene. In severe cases, depression can lead to thoughts of self-harm or suicide. If your spouse is depressed, talk to their doctor about treatment options. There are both holistic and drug treatments available that can make a significant difference in your spouse’s health.

If you would like to learn more about these and other behavioral symptoms of dementia and how to manage them, you can read more about them on alz.org®.

Your Partner in Memory Care

At Tuscan Gardens®, we’re dedicated to helping caregivers through even the most difficult phases of their loved one’s dementia. Our associates are well-trained in dementia care, and they’re always happy to answer questions or provide resources to help you provide the best care possible.

If your spouse’s safety ever becomes a serious concern, transitioning to the full-time professional care offered by a memory care community may be the best option for your family. Tuscan Gardens offers a secure environment for those with mid- to late-stage dementia, and our programming and care plans ensure that they enjoy an engaging lifestyle as well as receive the personal care and attention they need to live well.

To learn more about our comfortable, elegant community, contact us today!