Alzheimer’s and Aggression: How to Prevent and Stop It

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One of the most disturbing changes that can happen to people with Alzheimer’s or other kinds of dementia is the emergence of aggressive or violent behavior. To be clear: the aggression is caused by the disease and is a result of cognitive decline, but it can still present severe challenges to caregivers.

What causes violence and aggression in people with Alzheimer’s?

People with Alzheimer’s or dementia have needs just like the rest of us, but sometimes the disease hinders their ability to recognize and express their needs, or impedes their ability to interact and communicate with their caregivers. This may cause them to act out aggressively or with violence as a way to communicate that a need isn’t being met.

Aggressive behavior may be verbal or physical. Verbal aggression can take the form of swearing, screaming, shouting, or making threats, whereas physical aggression might be hitting, pinching, scratching, hair pulling, or biting. People who were never aggressive before their diagnosis can start to exhibit aggressive tendencies.

According to the Alzheimer’s Society, “Understanding what is causing the person’s behavior can help you to find a solution.” Potential causes may include:

  • Physical needs are not being met. Is the person in pain? Are there side effects from other medications? Is the environment too over-stimulating or overwhelming? Are their other senses (like sight or hearing) compromised?
  • Social needs are not being met. Is the person lonely? Bored? Are they with a healthcare professional that they do not know or trust? Is the person trying to hide their condition from others?
  • Psychological needs are not being met. Does the person feel their rights are being ignored? Are they frustrated at physical or cognitive disabilities, or a lack of independence? Do they have depression or other mental illnesses that aren’t being met? Do they feel threatened for any reason?

How can violence and aggression be prevented or stopped?

Working out the cause behind a person’s violence and aggression can help to prevent temperamental behaviors, and help ease the lives of caregivers. Here are strategies to help prevent violence and aggression:

  • Look at the situation to understand who is involved during episodes, as well as where, when, and why they happen. Constantly evaluate violent behaviors and figure out why aggression might have been triggered.
  • Use logic and reason when trying to calm your loved one down. Instead of accusing him or her, ask simple questions.
  • Observe their emotions and validate their feelings, assuring them it’s OK to be sad.
  • Stick to a regular routine to encourage stable emotions and avoid unexpected events.
  • Find a caregiver support group. Talking to others who are dealing with similar challenges can give you tips and ideas for handling aggressive or violent situations, as well as helping you process them after the fact.

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