Sometimes behavior disturbances are rooted in a medical problem. Agitation, for example, may signal physical discomfort. When an undesirable behavior appears suddenly or the person fails to respond to management techniques, he or she should be evaluated by a physician. Treatment of an underlying condition sometimes resolves what appeared to be solely a behavior problem. For example, relieving neck pain caused by arthritis might stop a person from wandering at night.
Behavior management alone is not always sufficient. In some cases, a physician may prescribe psychiatric medications. Try not to expect immediate results, because physicians usually begin with a low dose and increase it gradually. Care is required because psychiatric medications can produce serious side effects, particularly in older people.
In addition, some medications, such as antidepressants, must be given for several weeks before their benefits become apparent. Keep in mind that individual responses to these medications vary considerably. The same drug that helps one person may not be effective or may even worsen symptoms in another individual.
Three classes of drugs may be used to treat emotional and behavior problems: antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs (also called minor tranquilizers), and antipsychotics (also called major tranquilizers or neuroleptics).
Cholinesterase inhibitors may also be helpful in suppressing hostile or aggressive behaviors, though evidence favoring this approach is limited thus far.