How to Deal with Aggressive Behavior in Someone with Dementia

Dealing with Aggressive Behavior in Someone with Dementia

The most well-known symptom of Alzheimer’s and dementia is the loss of memory, but this is only one aspect of a much larger change that a person experiences when they are in the grip of the disease. As the disease progresses and the individual loses more cognitive function, they may seem less and less like their old selves. In fact, it can be downright scary when your loving mother who never said a bad thing about anybody suddenly begins using swear words, criticizes you unfairly, stomps away from a conversation, or even throws an object across the room.

Aggressive behavior is shocking, but it is not uncommon in individuals with dementia or Alzheimer’s. The key to addressing this behavior is to understand your loved one’s perspective and to figure out what might be causing the outburst.

When Reason Fails

Small children often have difficulty expressing their needs and possess little control over their emotions. Even small setbacks (not being able to reach the toy they want) can lead to a loud, angry tantrum. Adults with dementia can face this same dilemma. As the disease progresses, they may struggle to communicate effectively with the people around them. At the same time, as more cells die in their brain, they may lose the self-control that we adults learn to rely on when things don’t go our way.

Sometimes this frustration can simply become too much, which leads to outbursts and aggressive behavior. When you understand that your loved one is struggling to communicate, it may help you address the behavior in a more calm and proactive manner.

Figuring Out What Is Wrong
When your loved one shows aggressive behavior, try to figure out what they want to tell you. Sometimes, the reason will be obvious. If they are in an over-stimulated environment, such as a room crowded with strangers, they may feel overwhelmed or scared.

It could also be that they are in pain or feeling discomfort. Your loved one may be hungry, thirsty, or simply tired but be unable to communicate these needs. Urinary tract infections are also very common in individuals with incontinence. UTIs cause great discomfort, but if your loved one is in the later stages of dementia, they may not be able to understand or articulate what they feel.

Addressing Aggressive Behavior
It can be hard to stay calm and positive if your loved one is throwing a tantrum or saying terrible things to you, but be as patient as you can. If the cause of your loved one’s agitation is obvious, address it right away. Take them out of a crowded room. See if they want a drink of water or a snack. If you suspect a UTI or other illness, make a doctor appointment.

Sometimes the trigger is not obvious. In these cases, ask questions to see if your loved one can give you more information. You may want to take them to a quiet, peaceful room where you can give them your full attention. Keep your voice calm and soft no matter how upset you feel.

Most importantly, remember that the anger and aggression are a result of your loved one’s disease. It doesn’t represent who they are or how they really feel about you. You don’t have to endure these difficult episodes on your own!

At Sunshine Care, we host a free Family Caregiver Support Group each month that is open to the public. If you live in Poway, 4S Ranch, or the San Diego County area, please consider stopping by. This is your chance to share your challenges and receive advice and support from others who are facing the same situation. Just spending time with people who really understand your tribulations can help you keep your own temper in check the next time your loved one has an outburst.


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