Published on: January 27, 2012
by Alzheimer’s Society
Dealing with aggressive behaviour
If you are close to someone with dementia, there may be times when you are faced with aggressive behaviour. This can be very distressing. This factsheet aims to aid understanding about what may cause this type of behaviour and offers some ways to deal with it. This should make sure it happens less often, and mean that you are better able to manage when it does.
What do we mean by ‘aggressive behaviour’ in people with dementia?
People with dementia may sometimes behave aggressively in one or more of the following ways:
What causes aggressive behaviour?
There are many reasons why a person with dementia may act aggressively, including:
Dealing with aggressive behaviour is not easy, and there are no simple answers. However, it is possible to make it less of a problem through a gradual process of identifying what triggers the aggression, and finding some effective ways to deal with it. It is important to remember that all behaviour is a form of communication. If we can establish quickly what the person is trying to communicate, it may prevent them from feeling frustrated and acting aggressively.
Key tip: don’t take it personally
Any form of aggression can be upsetting, but the most important thing to remember is that the person is not being aggressive deliberately. The behaviour may appear to be targeted at you, but that is probably just because you are there. The fact that the person is aggressive towards you doesn’t mean that their feelings towards you have changed − just that their reactions have become different as the structure of their brain has changed.
Although the emotion at the root of the aggressive behaviour may persist, the person with dementia will probably quickly forget individual incidents.
Below is a step-by-step plan to manage and get to the root of aggressive behaviour.
Step 1: Find ways to react to aggressive situations
In the long term, prevention is the best solution for aggressive behaviour (see Step 3), both for you and for the person with dementia. If an aggressive situation does arise, don’t blame yourself. Instead, concentrate on handling the situation as calmly and effectively as possible, using the following tips.
At the time:
After the incident:
Step 2: Work out what triggers the aggressive behaviour
Once the heat of the moment has passed, take some time to think about what happened, and why. Think back to other times when the person has become aggressive, and what events seemed to lead to their outbursts. Making a note after each incident may help you remember. Can you identify any common triggers? This could give you a clue as to what is troubling the person. Use the list below to give you some ideas.
People with dementia may become aggressive if:
Step 3: Tackle the triggers
Using what you have learned in Step 2, try to find ways to avoid or minimise the situations that trigger the person’s aggressive behaviour. Some of the solutions may be straightforward − for example, making sure the person always has plenty to drink. Others may require rather more thought.
Tips for preventing aggressive behaviour:
If there seems to be no pattern to the behaviour and you are finding it difficult to cope, don’t suffer in silence − seek professional advice.
Step 4: Take time to deal with your own feelings
Even if you manage not to take it personally, an incident of aggressive behaviour may well leave you feeling quite shaky, and over time this kind of behaviour can leave you feeling exhausted and distressed. Find ways to help yourself recover, both immediately after an incident and in the longer term, and tap into sources of support.
Try not to bottle up your feelings or resentments − find ways to talk things through. If you do lose your temper, don’t feel guilty − remember, you are under great stress − but do discuss things with a friend, professional or another carer who may be able to suggest ways of handling such situations more calmly.
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