Someone develops dementia every three seconds somewhere in the world. In 2017, there were approximately 50 million people living with this disease, and by 2030, this number expected to surpass 75 million.
With so many people affected by this condition, it’s highly like you know someone with dementia. In fact, it may be a parent.
It’s estimated that 16.1 million people in the U.S. are currently providing care for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia, and this number continues to grow. If you provide this care, for a parent, or another family member, you may be faced with a wide array of challenges.
A challenge of caring for individuals with dementia that doesn’t get much attention is aggressive behavior. Unfortunately, this is a serious issue for many individuals and caregivers.
Understanding Aggressive Behavior in Dementia Patients
Aggressive behavior in dementia patients may manifest in several ways. It can involve everything from physical shows of aggression to angry outbursts, and anything in between.
If you are providing care for someone who shows aggressive behavior, dealing with it may present a serious challenge. The good news is, there are a few tips that can help you get through these moments, and that may help you prevent them in the future.
Common Causes of Aggressive Behavior
Aggression in dementia patients can result from several factors. Poor communication, environmental factors, and physical discomfort are all important to consider.
If you are caring for a loved one who is aggressive, try to consider what may be contributing to this change in their behavior.
In some situations, aggressive behavior can spur from some type of physical discomfort. However, for others, it could be an irritant in the atmosphere.
For example, is there excessive noise or stimulus in the room? Is the room crowded or stuffy? Is the individual tired, thirsty, or hungry? Are there medications causing side effects?
If you find something that’s possibly irritating in the atmosphere, remove the irritant from the space. See if that helps.
Aggression may also be caused by the individual’s emotions or mental state. For example, do they feel lost? Are they confused or frustrated?
There are some individuals who function better during certain times of the day. In many cases, mornings are best.
Think about the time of day when scheduling activities or making appointments. Select a time when you know they are most alert and will have the ability to process new information.
Another common cause of aggressive behavior is if you don’t communicate well with the individual.
This can be caused by giving complex instructions or asking too many questions. The person may also be picking up on your irritation or stress.
Responding to Aggression in Dementia Patients
The way you respond to aggressive behaviors from a person with dementia can also impact the situation. Some tips to help you manage and diffuse the situation are found here.
1. Examine the Behavior Objectively
When your parent or other loved one begins to act aggressively, consider if their actions are really a problem. A problem behavior is one that can result in an adverse outcome for the individual, or someone else.
For example, ask yourself – can the action cause harm to the person or someone else?
While some behaviors may be uncomfortable to be around or perhaps disruptive or embarrassing, they may not truly be harmful. Try not to correct, intervene, or even unintentionally escalate a situation if it’s not necessary.
You have to know when to let some things go.
For example, if your father wants to wear four shirts and rummage through dresser drawers, let him. While you need to protect your loved one from harm, you also need to give them freedom.
2. Clear Communication Is Essential
The last thing you want to do is to make a person’s irritation or confusion worse. As a result, you need to ensure you are communicating with them in a clear, calm manner.
It’s important to communicate with simple, direct language. Break down a task into simple steps. Don’t overwhelm or expect too much from a loved one by giving complex requests, as this may lead to more irritation and aggression.
3. Attempt Redirection
If something is upsetting your loved one, try to get them to focus on something else. You can even pull out something they find comforting.
Another option is to ask the person for help with something else, such as folding laundry. You can also offer to go for a walk together.
Even if you just venture into the backyard, a change of scenery can make a huge difference.
4. Create a Routine
Having a consistent routine can help to remove some of the uncertainty in a person’s life. Having certain things to expect can help someone with dementia feel safe. They may also feel like they have a bit of control over their day to day life.
Creating a schedule doesn’t have to be difficult. Just figure out a specific time to have meals, taking medication, getting a shower, participating in fun activities, etc.
5. Try Your Best to Understand
Try to think about the specific emotion that has caused the aggression. Regardless of how far away from reality a person may be, try to figure out how they perceive the specific situation.
In many cases, individuals who suffer dementia become aggressive because they first become frustrated with their memory loss. To help minimize violence, take steps to minimize their confusion.
If you have noticed that your loved one’s aggression starts with confusion, take the time to ask them questions about how they are feeling. Really listen to what they say.
This is information that can be extremely useful in helping you figure out what they need to hear. When you know this, you can help them feel better about the situation.
6. Ensure Their Physical Needs Are Taken Care Of
In many cases, what may seem to be an issue is actually a symptom of a different, underlying problem. For example, if your loved one is experiencing some type of physical discomfort, it could turn into aggression.
In some cases, they may not be sure how to tell you about the discomfort. In other situations, they could be embarrassed. There are several illnesses, such as a urinary tract infection, that can lead to aggressive behaviors.
If you see that the usual things you do to calm your loved one aren’t working, then set up a doctor’s appointment. There may be an illness to blame for the aggression.
7. Let Your Loved One Have Space
This is a tip that’s important for both your loved one and yourself. In fact, in some cases, it may be necessary for your safety.
If your loved one starts to show signs of aggression, then let them have some space. This may also help to prevent violence or fits of rage.
Take a minute to regroup and then return to the situation. This allows you to get ahold of yourself, and give them a breather as well.
8. Remain Calm
If your loved one becomes aggressive, it may be a natural reaction to become upset, irritated, or stressed. However, it’s your job to remain calm.
The fact is, your loved one may pick up on these negative emotions, which can escalate their own feelings and frustrations. You need to remain positive and reassuring and always speak to them in a soft, slow tone.
9. Seek Outside Help and Advice
If you reach a point where the individual’s aggression, rage, or violence is too much to handle, then it may be a good idea to reach out for help. You can speak with the individual’s doctor or another professional in the field.
It may also be beneficial to talk to other caregivers who have faced similar situations. They may be able to provide you with additional insight and help for your situation.
Handling Aggressive Behavior: You Are in Control
If you are a caregiver for someone with dementia, there’s no question that your plate is full. If the individual begins to display aggressive behavior, then using the tips and information here may help you better handle the situation.
However, there is also help available. You are not alone. Millions of other people are in your shoes.
If you are unable to provide the care your loved one needs, then it may also be time to look into different living arrangements. At Maple Heights Senior Living, your loved one will be cared for by a professional staff who has prior experience with dementia patients.
For more information about the services available, or to schedule a tour, contact us today.