How to cope with aggressive dementia behaviours
If you have a relative with dementia - perhaps you are their caregiver - you may be aware that at some point you might find yourself dealing with aggressive behaviour from them. This is a prospect that many people fear, but there are ways to cope with such challenging behaviours.
Both physical and verbal aggression can be a symptom of dementia, or they can be a sign that something is not right in your relative’s life so they are acting out their distress. It can be very upsetting for the people around somebody with dementia to see them behave in such a state, and it is often a prompt that leads them to seek out dementia care support.
Aggression can take place in someone with dementia because they are confused or frightened and don’t understand where they are or who the people around them are. Similarly, if they feel they are not in control of their surroundings or their lives, this can also provoke aggression.
Another issue is that, as dementia progresses, a person’s inhibitions can reduce. As a result of this, they may be more likely to “act out”.
Other reasons for aggressive behaviours in dementia include:
Aggression can be physical or verbal. Verbal aggression can include shouting, yelling, accusing, screaming or swearing at somebody. Physical aggression might include kicking, hitting, pushing, scratching or biting.
A person does not have to have been aggressive before they had dementia to develop these symptoms, though they might have been. If they have an underlying aggressive nature, then the lack of inhibitions associated with dementia can bring that out. However, somebody who has been peace-loving and not at all aggressive throughout their life can also develop aggression as a symptom of, or response to the challenges of, dementia.
Aggression is a challenging behaviour that tests Care Professionals and family members. It can be frightening to be faced with somebody who is shouting or scratching you or screaming. It can also be embarrassing or awkward if this takes place in a public space or in front of others. You may wonder whether or not your relative is still safe to spend time with your children, and you might consider whether it is time to look at getting some Care Professional support to help both you and your relative to cope better.
Nobody is to blame for a person with dementia developing challenging behaviours like aggression, but there are things that can be done.
Aggression is often a reaction to a person’s circumstances rather than, strictly speaking, a symptom of dementia. It can indicate that a need is not being met and it may be that your relative cannot express what they need or want. Even if they do not understand what they need or want in that moment, the frustration of not getting it can bubble over.
For instance, they may be hungry but unable to recognise the signs of hunger, or they may have an infection and feel unwell without being able to communicate this.
Aggression might be a reaction to being misunderstood, feeling embarrassed or frustrated, feeling threatened, feeling like their voice is not being heard, or experiencing pain or other distress.
It may be difficult for your relative to assert their needs and wishes, so aggression can come to the surface, especially if dementia has caused lowered inhibitions so they do not have the self-control (to manage their anger or distress) that they used to have.
We all know that ‘prevention is better than a cure’, so aiming to prevent your relative from getting into a distressing situation will always be preferable to fixing things when they are already upset.
In order to help to avoid aggressive behaviours from arising, consider the following tips:
While putting your efforts into preventing challenging behaviours in dementia can pay dividends, there may still be occasions when your relative or loved one does become aggressive. It is important that you and any of his or her Care Professionals handle this appropriately and manage this behaviour in a way that does no further damage and limits the impact of the aggression.
The following tips will help:
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