Giving Care: Senior & Disabled Caregiver Resource Blog

How to Manage Aggressive Dementia Behaviours

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It’s no secret that caregivers often deal with unusual behaviours when caring for a person with Alzheimer’s or dementia. The diseases are characterized by a progressive deterioration of the brain therefore personality changes and tantrums are expected. They may behave in ways that are physically or verbally aggressive, but this doesn’t make the behaviours any less difficult or embarrassing to cope with. In some cases, improper or lack of management may even be dangerous.

Let’s take a look at some of the most challenging behaviors seniors may exhibit through dementia — and how to manage them as a family caregiver.

Dementia’s Most Common “Bad” Behaviors

  • Rage, anger, yelling.
  • Swearing, inappropriate comments.
  • Paranoia and/or other strange obsessions.
  • Mental, emotional, and/or physical abuse.
  • Refusing to shower or self care.
  • Hoarding objects.
  • Improper handling of finances (overspending or extreme frugality).

What causes aggressive behavior?

Oftentimes, an Alzheimer’s patient’s aggressive behavior is not deliberate; the disease just manifests itself in these ways. Any action may simply be a reaction caused by a need that isn’t being met. These include physical needs (hunger, comfort, etc) and mental needs (stimulation). People with dementia may be unable to recognize these needs, let alone communicate them or achieve them themselves.

Learning what these triggers are can help a caregiver prevent or subdue aggression by helping to meet the need. Here are some reasons behind unwanted dementia behaviors.

Physical needs

  • Comfort: Are they feeling any pain? Are they too hot or cold? Are they constipated?
  • Medication: Is their medicine causing side effects?
  • Environment: Is it overwhelming (too busy, noisy, or bright)? Is it underwhelming (boring, not stimulating enough)?
  • Hallucinations: Are they having hallucinations that cause them to react?

Psychological Needs

  • Human connection: Are they lonely? Do they feel excluded or unvalued?
  • Stimulation: Are they bored? Are their senses (sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch) being stimulated regularly?
  • Independence: Do they feel like they have “a say” in some situations? Are their opinions being ignored? Are they frustrated that they are unable to complete certain tasks?
  • Mental health: Aside from dementia, do they suffer other mental disorders such as depression?

How to respond to aggressive behavior

Dealing with dementia and Alzheimer’s aggressive behaviors can be tiring. Being aware of an Alzheimer’s patients needs and acting accordingly may alleviate some of the struggles of aggressive behaviors. For example, if the need is medical, a visit to their family doctor may be in order. If a particular environment triggers hallucinations, avoid those types of situations. Otherwise, actually managing aggression in real time is a completely different beast! Here are some things a caregiver can do while their loved one acts out.

  • Take a deep breath to calm yourself before reacting.
  • Remain calm throughout the experience; remember that this behavior isn’t personal or purposeful.
  • Give the person plenty of space (and time).
  • Keep eye contact and encourage communication.
  • Divert their attention to something else, for example music, television, or something to touch.
  • Walk away to a safe area and call for help if the situation becomes particularly violent.
  • Do not blame or punish them.
  • Talk through how they are feeling.
  • Talk through how you’re feeling with your doctor, counselor, or loved ones.

How do you manage aggression in seniors? Let us know in the comments section below.


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