How to Manage Aggression From a Loved One With Dementia: Understanding the Reasons Behind the Aggression & Tips For Diffusing It
Are you dealing with an aggressive loved one with dementia? Maybe you are finding it difficult to understand why they are distressed most days.
This can easily become frustrating if you do not know how to deal with the aggression and frustration of someone with dementia.
We’re here to help.
In this guide, we offer some important tips for understanding why a person with dementia may become aggressive, as well as suggestions for defusing the situation and finding a way forward.
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The First Step to Dealing With Aggression in Dementia Patients Involves Learning WHY
When you are caring for a loved one with dementia, it may seem like they can be mean for no apparent reason.
This is likely untrue.
There are several reasons why someone with dementia can exhibit different behavioral disturbances, aggression included.
The first step in dealing with the aggression in dementia patients involves learning about the cause.
If you can identify and correct the cause, your loved one’s behavior may improve.
If your loved one is at home, you want to stay in close communication with their primary care physician, who can provide invaluable help when any difficult situation arises.
6 Reasons Why Dementia Patients Get Aggressive
There are many reasons dementia patients can become aggressive, including:
- A lack of understanding
- Forgetting recent happenings
- Frustration over not being able to communicate; and
- Feeling overwhelmed
It’s important to know that aggressive behaviors typically increase when a person is in a moderate or later stage of dementia.
Keep reading to learn six additional reasons dementia patients may get aggressive as their dementia worsens.
#1: They’re Physically Uncomfortable
It is not uncommon for people with dementia to become aggressive when experiencing any type of physical discomfort.
Sometimes dementia patients can’t communicate what is bothering them and can easily become agitated.
Some questions you can ask yourself if you suspect your loved one is uncomfortable are:
- Are their clothes too tight or too loose?
- Are they constantly being moved around?
- Do they feel restrained?
- Are they sitting in an uncomfortable position?
- Could they be too hot or too cold?
If you answer yes to any of these questions, it may be a sign that your loved one is experiencing physical discomfort and needs to be moved to a more comfortable setting.
Also, consider that UTIs (urinary tract infections), which can be extremely painful, are common within the elderly community.
If you suspect that your loved one is in pain or has a UTI, it would be best to consult a physician.
#2: They’re Tired
It is natural for a person with dementia to become tired from a lack of sleep.
Some common causes of sleep disturbances in dementia patients include:
- Difficulty falling and staying asleep
- Restlessness when attempting to sleep; and
- Day and night time confusion
Similar to cranky babies from not sleeping well, not getting good rest at night can make a person with dementia more aggressive.
If your loved one is becoming increasingly aggressive because of a lack of sleep, it may be helpful to speak to a doctor about the situation.
#3: They’re Suffering From Sundown Syndrome
Sundown Syndrome is a condition that causes people with dementia to become agitated and confused as the day goes on and they get closer to bedtime.
Caregivers should be aware of Sundown Syndrome and prepare to:
- Deal with any sudden changes in behavior
- Keep a close eye on the patient
- Ensure the patient’s safety; and
- Establish regular day and night routines
When dealing with aggression in dementia patients, remember that Sundown Syndrome is not a condition that they can control.
If you’re finding the symptoms of your loved one’s anxiety becoming more frequent or difficult to manage as the day progresses, don’t be afraid to call their doctor for advice on how to best care for them.
#4: They’re Confused
The more severe a person’s dementia becomes, the more common it is for them to experience memory loss and confusion.
Dementia patients sometimes may not understand what is happening around them, which might cause them to become frustrated.
Some factors that may cause a person with dementia to be confused or disorientated could include:
- A change in routine or their environment
- Not recognizing caregivers; and
- Delusions and hallucinations
It is important to be patient when someone with dementia is confused.
Try explaining what is happening to them clearly and concisely.
If their confusion becomes aggressive and frequent, it may be necessary to consider other options for care and assistance.
For the safety of the patient, caregiver, and others, seeking a new living arrangement might be best. Senior Services of America communities can help to provide a caring senior living experience for residents with dementia.
#5: There Has Been a Change in Their Routine
If you are dealing with aggression from your loved one with dementia, consider that there may have been a change in their routine that is causing them to act out.
Their usual routine may no longer be satisfying for them or they may become agitated or angry because something doesn’t go as expected
To deescalate an aggressive situation with a dementia patient, you can:
- Explain the situation to them in a calm and reassuring manner
- Adjust any routines as needed; and
- Make sure the patient is comfortable and safe
As you handle aggressive behavior calmly and firmly, keep in mind that acting out is not necessarily their intention.
Try to keep the peace and keep communication open with your loved one to ensure that their needs are being met.
#6: Their Environment Is Too Stimulating
People with dementia may become aggressive if they are overstimulated.
The stimulation can make them feel agitated and unable to control their behavior, which can lead to them becoming hostile and disruptive.
There are a few things that you can do if a your loved one’s home environment is too stimulating, such as:
- Remove any unnecessary or excessive stimuli from their environment
- Install curtains or blinds to help decrease exposure to light and noise; and
- Provide the patient with calming activities, such as reading or music
By decreasing loud noises, clutter, and too much activity going on around them, you can help to reduce the stimulation that your loved one is experiencing.
5 Tips for Defusing Aggression in Dementia Patients
It is not uncommon for a situation to escalate quickly when dealing with aggressive dementia patients.
You may even find that you do not feel safe. Do you know what to do if that occurs?
In those instances, if your loved one is in a safe situation without access to anything that may harm themselves or anyone else, you can separate yourself from them by going into another room.
However, if you find yourself in control and able to deescalate the situation, here are five tips you can use to help diffuse any potential aggression.
#1: Maintain a Rhythm of Routines
It is important to maintain a rhythm of routines with any person with dementia, aggressive or not.
This may help to keep the patient calm and allow them to feel secure.
Some regular daily routines to consider implementing for your loved one with dementia could include:
- Waking up at the same time every day
- Having a regular morning routine to follow
- Ensuring your loved one can rest and relax during the day
- Having a system for your loved one’s medications and other treatments; and
- Implementing a nightly routine before they get ready for bed
It is also important to be consistent with your approach so that your loved one knows what to expect.
By establishing and maintaining a rhythm of routines, your loved one may feel more in control and less irritable.
#2: Check Medication Interactions
When caring for someone with dementia, you should be aware of any medication interactions that may lead to aggression.
Some medications used to treat dementia may cause mood changes.
As you care for your loved one, be aware of any changes in their mood or behavior when taking their medication, especially for new prescriptions.
It is important to check with your loved one’s doctor about any possible interactions:
- Before starting a new medication; or
- Before stopping any medications
If your loved one is on medication, staying in direct contact with their primary physician will help you have easier access to those “as needed” PRN medications, which can help deescalate aggressive behaviors.
#3: Listen & Remain Calm
We understand that many people find it difficult to deal with aggressive dementia patients. One of the best ways to deal with this is to remain calm and listen to your loved one.
Some examples of ways you can do this are by:
- Speaking slowly with a gentle voice
- Remaining calm and non-threatening; and
- Assuring your loved one that you are there to help them, not harm them
If you can, try to find out what the person’s reasons are for being aggressive.
Always try redirecting and never argue with your loved one.
Even if your loved one is telling a story that is so far out there that it never could have happened, just agree with them and redirect to try to deescalate the situation.
If you find yourself becoming flustered and upset, try to get help from a family member or a friend.
#4: Try Music Therapy
Music therapy can have a calming effect on people with dementia and can also help to:
- Diffuse aggressive behavior
- Promote sleep; and
- Reduce agitation and stress
A study from Aging Mental Health found that music therapy is as effective as antipsychotic medications in reducing aggression in dementia patients.
#5: Consider a Change in Living Arrangements
It’s difficult to deal with a dementia patient who is becoming aggressive.
Remember that dementia can cause changes in behavior, and the best course of action might be to consider a change in living arrangements.
If your loved one is becoming a threat to themselves or others, looking into …
- Assisted living
- Memory care; or
- Other senior living options
… may be necessary for both your patient and their family.
Senior Services of America can help. Thr team of professionals at our memory care communities can provide you with the support and care necessary for your loved one with dementia.
Senior Services of America: Supporting Those With Dementia and Their Families Since 2000
Dealing with a loved one with dementia and its related aggression can be difficult for seniors and their families.
Our mission at Senior Services of America is to improve our residents’ sense of well-being by providing:
- Emotional support
- Social contact; and
- Activities of daily living
We manage communities with a supportive atmosphere that encourages all residents to thrive—no matter what they are experiencing in their journey of dementia.
We are dedicated to providing supportive services to meet the needs of the elderly with our senior housing communities or respite care programs.
Find your nearest Senior Services of America community today for more information on how our services can help.