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Personality Changes with Dementia

The physical progression of dementia will present as anxiety, compulsive acts and lost social skills, which are all characteristics of certain personality disorders. It’s important to recognize that dementia is not a personality disorder, and therefore shouldn’t be treated as such.

As dementia progresses, your loved one will gradually become less and less like their former self. Common symptoms include loss of initiative and interest in former activities and hobbies, becoming suspicious and paranoid, mood swings, lost ability to recognize close friends and family, and eventually inability to perform day-to-day tasks. As all of these changes take place, caregivers must remember that although dementia can include secondary symptoms similar to certain mental illnesses, such as anxiety, compulsive acts, and social inappropriateness, these symptoms are actually the result of a person experiencing physical, emotional and environmental changes — not of a mental illness. Dementia is not a mental illness. It is also not a personality disorder, which refers to a mental illness that is characterized by deep-rooted incomplete patterns of behavior and personality.

Dementia slowly erases identity and self-worth, creating extreme changes or the complete loss of your loved one’s former personality. As dementia worsens, it’s important to resist treating your loved one like a stranger. They’re still the same person you’ve known all along, they’re just living with the effects of dementia. Whenever possible, recount stories and memories that contain keys to your loved one’s former personality and passions. Not only will this become a treasured pastime, it will help you to stay connected to the person you know and love.