Coping With Alzheimer's Aggression


Posted On July 18th 2013

Coping With Alzheimer's Aggression

Facing aggression from a loved one is difficult to handle - especially when it arises from Alzheimer’s disease.

Do not struggle with this alone.

What follows seeks to help you understand the causes of dementia-related aggression, and how to cope with it. There are ways to handle aggressive behavior associated with dementia, and the coping skills presented here may help you take control and improve the life of the person with dementia.

What is ‘aggressive behavior’ in people with dementia?

People with dementia may sometimes exhibit aggressive behavior in one or more ways:

  1. being verbally abusive or threatening
  2. being physically threatening, for example, kicking or pinching, or pushing
  3. violently lashing out at people or property
  4. overreacting to a situation
  5. becoming very agitated in response to something that may seem to be a very minor setback, like losing ones’ car keys, or criticism.

What causes aggressive behavior?

While there are many reasons why a person with dementia may act aggressively, the most common are:

  1. feeling frightened or humiliated
  2. feeling frustrated not being able to understand others, or themselves
  3. the physical effects of dementia which erodes judgement and self-control
  4. loss of inhibition
  5. decreased awareness of appropriate behavior learned in early childhood

It’s not easy dealing with aggressive behavior. And, unfortunately, there are no simple answer: nevertheless, it is possible to make it less of a problem through a gradual process of identifying the triggers of aggression, and finding effective coping mechanisms.

Remember, the aggression you are witnessing is not directed at you. It is the result of frustration.

Don’t take it personally.

While prevention is the best solution for aggressive behavior, in the event an aggressive situation arises, don’t blame yourself.

1. Concentrate on handling the situation as calmly as possible:

  1. before you react, take a deep breath.  step back, and give the person space. You may need to leave the room to diffuse the situation. Don’t argue, or get heated, it’ll just make things worse
  2. Attempt to distract their attention
  3. Reasure the person and acknowledge you understand they are upset.
  4. Don’t show anxiety as this may increase the persons agitation.
  5. If the person is getting physical, get them plenty of space. Unless absolutely necessary, avoid closing in or trying to restrain someone. This is make things worse.
  6. If things escalate, call for help

 

 After the aggressive incident:

  1. resist punishing the person in any way, for example by withholding a treat or ignoring them
  2. If aggressive incidents are frequent, discuss them with a professional.  Seek out the advice of a psychologist or psychiatrist.

2. Identify the triggers associated with aggressive behavior

People with dementia respond with aggression through frustration, or anger:

  1. they feel frustrated, or humiliated because they can no longer cope with everyday demands of life
  2. they feel their independence or privacy is threatened
  3.  they perceive they are being judged or criticized
  4. they are nervous or threatened because they don’t recognize their surroundings, or people.

3. Address the triggers

Using tips from section 3, find ways to avoid or minimize the situations that trigger the aggressive behavior.  Some may be straightforward - for example, play familiar, favorite music, make sure the person has plenty to drink.

- Look for patterns

- If the person with dementia does not seem to be coping well, reduce any demands and create a stress-free environment, and routine to keep things calm.

  1. Keep in mind the person with dementia may not understand what you are trying to do and why. Where possible, explain things calmly and in simple sentences, allowing the person more time to respond or get familiar with a situation.

Tactfully offer help without seeming to take over. Prompt, or guide the person. Break tasks down into manageable steps.

  1. Hold criticism. Do your best of hide any irritation. Praise achievements. Focus on the things the person is able to do, rather than things unable to handle.
  2. Find activities to stimulate the persons interest
  3. Make sure they get adequate exercise

If there seems to be no pattern to their behavior, and you are having difficulty coping, seek professional advice.

  1. Deal with your own feelings - on a regular basis
  1. Share your experiences with a close family member or friend - talk really helps.
  2. If you are the caregiver, join a caregiver group. Contact Alzheimer’s Disease resources here.
  3. Set some quiet time for yourself, if practical, to unwind.
  4. Talk to your physician, clergy, community psychiatric nurse or other professional
  5. Speak with a health coach at (800) 420 - 3157  or visit adcaregiver.com for more information.

Coping With Alzheimer's Aggression

Facing aggression from a loved one is difficult to handle - especially when it arises from Alzheimer’s disease.

Do not struggle with this alone.

What follows seeks to help you understand the causes of dementia-related aggression, and how to cope with it. There are ways to handle aggressive behavior associated with dementia, and the coping skills presented here may help you take control and improve the life of the person with dementia.

What is ‘aggressive behavior’ in people with dementia?

People with dementia may sometimes exhibit aggressive behavior in one or more ways:

  1. being verbally abusive or threatening
  2. being physically threatening, for example, kicking or pinching, or pushing
  3. violently lashing out at people or property
  4. overreacting to a situation
  5. becoming very agitated in response to something that may seem to be a very minor setback, like losing ones’ car keys, or criticism.

What causes aggressive behavior?

While there are many reasons why a person with dementia may act aggressively, the most common are:

  1. feeling frightened or humiliated
  2. feeling frustrated not being able to understand others, or themselves
  3. the physical effects of dementia which erodes judgement and self-control
  4. loss of inhibition
  5. decreased awareness of appropriate behavior learned in early childhood

It’s not easy dealing with aggressive behavior. And, unfortunately, there are no simple answer: nevertheless, it is possible to make it less of a problem through a gradual process of identifying the triggers of aggression, and finding effective coping mechanisms.

Remember, the aggression you are witnessing is not directed at you. It is the result of frustration.

Don’t take it personally.

While prevention is the best solution for aggressive behavior, in the event an aggressive situation arises, don’t blame yourself.

1. Concentrate on handling the situation as calmly as possible:

  1. before you react, take a deep breath.  step back, and give the person space. You may need to leave the room to diffuse the situation. Don’t argue, or get heated, it’ll just make things worse
  2. Attempt to distract their attention
  3. Reasure the person and acknowledge you understand they are upset.
  4. Don’t show anxiety as this may increase the persons agitation.
  5. If the person is getting physical, get them plenty of space. Unless absolutely necessary, avoid closing in or trying to restrain someone. This is make things worse.
  6. If things escalate, call for help

 

 After the aggressive incident:

  1. resist punishing the person in any way, for example by withholding a treat or ignoring them
  2. If aggressive incidents are frequent, discuss them with a professional.  Seek out the advice of a psychologist or psychiatrist.

2. Identify the triggers associated with aggressive behavior

People with dementia respond with aggression through frustration, or anger:

  1. they feel frustrated, or humiliated because they can no longer cope with everyday demands of life
  2. they feel their independence or privacy is threatened
  3.  they perceive they are being judged or criticized
  4. they are nervous or threatened because they don’t recognize their surroundings, or people.

3. Address the triggers

Using tips from section 3, find ways to avoid or minimize the situations that trigger the aggressive behavior.  Some may be straightforward - for example, play familiar, favorite music, make sure the person has plenty to drink.

- Look for patterns

- If the person with dementia does not seem to be coping well, reduce any demands and create a stress-free environment, and routine to keep things calm.

  1. Keep in mind the person with dementia may not understand what you are trying to do and why. Where possible, explain things calmly and in simple sentences, allowing the person more time to respond or get familiar with a situation.

Tactfully offer help without seeming to take over. Prompt, or guide the person. Break tasks down into manageable steps.

  1. Hold criticism. Do your best of hide any irritation. Praise achievements. Focus on the things the person is able to do, rather than things unable to handle.
  2. Find activities to stimulate the persons interest
  3. Make sure they get adequate exercise

If there seems to be no pattern to their behavior, and you are having difficulty coping, seek professional advice.

  1. Deal with your own feelings - on a regular basis
  1. Share your experiences with a close family member or friend - talk really helps.
  2. If you are the caregiver, join a caregiver group. Contact Alzheimer’s Disease resources here.
  3. Set some quiet time for yourself, if practical, to unwind.
  4. Talk to your physician, clergy, community psychiatric nurse or other professional
  5. Speak with a health coach at (800) 420 - 3157  or visit adcaregiver.com for more information.