How To Handle Aggressive Behaviors In Alzheimer’s And Dementia Patients

By Lindsay Knudsen

Caring for a person with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia can be challenging at the least and can impact nearly every aspect of a caregiver’s life. In honor of November being Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, the following are some tips that can help a caregiver better understand and combat these behaviors in their loved ones.

Remind yourself to not take it personally

It’s important to remember that those with Alzheimer’s and related dementias are living in an altered state. Do not take their behavior personally.

Don’t rush

Allow ample time before a scheduled activity. If you know you have to attend an appointment at a certain time, allow plenty of time in advance. Rushing and repeating instructions can increase stress and anxiety.

Talk it out

Tell the individual what you are planning on doing. For example, if you are attempting to toilet them, start by speaking the steps out loud to them. Saying “okay, now we’re going to walk in to the restroom” as you’re walking there may help decrease their fear. Reassuring them that you’re there to help is also beneficial.

Monitor physical discomfort

Sometimes something as simple as a blister on the bottom of the foot may cause the person to lash out, especially if they are unable to communicate what is bothering them. Periodically monitoring for physical discomfort can reduce aggressive behaviors.

Avoid overstimulating environments

Large crowds, unfamiliar locations and dark lighting can all contribute to fear and anxiety.

Speak slowly and with fewer words

Try giving one-step directions at a time. Once they complete the first task, then give them the next direction. Often with dementia, it is difficult to comprehend many steps at a time. In this instance, less is more.

Mirror imaging

Gesture what you intend for them to do. Let them mirror your actions, giving them a visual guide. You can mime brushing teeth, eating and many other simple activities.

Use music

Utilizing the individual’s favorite music is a great tool to have on hand. If they start to get agitated, walk away and try playing some of their favorite tunes which may distract them.

Take a break

If you’re able to, offer to “go for a walk” with the person. Even if it’s just to the backyard, a change of scenery can make a world of difference.

Switch it up

If the activity is stressful, or you need a distraction, pull out something that is comforting to them. Alternatively, ask them for help with another project, such as folding laundry.

Use familiar items

Have comforting or familiar items, such as a picture or stuffed toy, ready to distract the person. Even a snack may help to distract them.

Ensure safety

If the individual is unable to calm down, call others for help. It’s important to have a relative or trusted friend that you can call. Alternatively, call 911 if you feel that you or the individual is at risk and be sure to tell the responders that the person suffers from dementia.

While a caregiver’s journey includes many challenges along the way, it also offers many rich, life-affirming rewards.

Lindsay Knudsen, LMSW, is the director of Day Program Services for Long Island Alzheimer’s Foundation


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