How To Care For Aggressive Dementia Patients

Aggressive behavior can be both verbal and physical. They can happen unexpectedly, for no apparent reason, or due to a frustrating situation. While aggression or violent behavior can be difficult to deal with, understanding that the person who has Alzheimer's or dementia is not acting in this manner on purpose can be beneficial.

This is a normal part of the disease and can occur even if your older adult's typical personality has always been kind and non-violent. It's caused by the brain damage they're experiencing, so care for aggressive dementia patients becomes a factor to consider for long-term dementia patient care.

What Aggression Looks Like In Dementia Patients

Anger and aggression are more likely to appear as symptoms in the middle stages of dementia and other concerning habits such as wandering, hoarding, and unusual compulsive behaviors.

Most types of dementia (not just Alzheimer's, but also vascular, frontotemporal, Lewy body, and others) develop these issues in the middle to late stages. Aggression may increase as the person requires more hands-on assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs), such as dressing and eating. 

About half of those diagnosed with dementia become so agitated that they resort to physical or verbal abuse. Fortunately, if your loved one's "challenging behaviors" are not typical for them (if they weren't born with them), the changes aren't permanent and will probably calm down or fluctuate over time.

Responding To Aggressive Dementia Patients

Whether or not you are in the midst of an aggressive episode will determine how you handle aggression from a loved one. The following advice is divided into sections on what to do during problematic behavior and then good habits before and after to help your loved one become calmer overall and less likely to act aggressively. 

The most important thing is to be compassionate; treat the person as if they are a person with thoughts and feelings, rather than as a problem. Here are a few tips on how to properly exercise long-term violent dementia patient care:

1. Prepare Yourself By Having Realistic Expectations.

Remembering that challenging behavior and aggressive outbursts are normal symptoms of dementia allows you to respond calmly and supportively.

Knowing that these episodes are common in the disease reduces your shock and surprise when they occur, and it may also make it easier not to take the behavior personally.

2. Determine The Immediate Cause Or Trigger.

Consider what occurred just before the aggressive outburst. It could have been triggered by fear, frustration, or pain.

For example, your elderly relative may begin yelling at empty room areas and ordering people to leave. You may notice that the room is becoming darker as you look around.

3. Exclude Pain As A Possible Cause Of The Behavior.

In someone with dementia, pain and physical discomfort can trigger aggressive behavior. Many dementia patients are unable to communicate when something bothers them. Instead, they may act out because they are in pain or discomfort. 

Check if they require pain medication for pre-existing conditions such as arthritis or gout, if their seat is comfortable, or if they require the restroom.

4. Use A Gentle Tone Of Voice And Reassuring Touch.

When your elderly loved one becomes upset, take a deep breath and remain as calm as possible. If you're upset, you unintentionally exacerbate the situation's tense emotions. Staying calm and steadily breathing helps to reduce everyone's anger and

5. Validate Their Emotions.

Suppose your elderly relative is acting aggressively, and there is no obvious cause. It could be because they are experiencing strong negative emotions such as frustration, sadness, or loneliness and are unsure how to express themselves.

Look for emotional cues in their behavior and speak in a calm and comforting tone. Assure them that it is normal to feel this way and that you are available to assist them.

6. Calm The Atmosphere.

A busy or noisy environment may also elicit aggressive dementia behavior. If your elderly relative becomes aggressive, take note of the surroundings to see if you can quickly calm the situation down. Reduce the music volume, turn off the TV, and ask others to leave the room.

Anyone experiencing behavioral symptoms should see a doctor immediately, especially if they appear suddenly. However, providing care for aggressive dementia patients requires a long-term strategy, and treatment depends on a thorough diagnosis. To know more about the common behaviors of dementia patients, read through our blogs at Senior Strong.

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William Rivers is an editor with a master’s degree in Human Services Counseling at Maine State University. He has more than 20 years of experience working in the senior healthcare industry.
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