Dealing with Aggression in Dementia

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iStock_000008248330XSmall-300x245.jpgHome caregivers tending to a loved one with dementia know that they may unexpectedly encounter some form of aggressive behavior. This can be unsettling, frightening, angering, or simply inconvenient — but whatever emotions it brings forth in the caregiver, it’s important to try to handle the situation in such a way that it does not escalate. The following tips may be helpful.

Pick battles carefully. Sometimes a caregiver may feel responsible for everything that another person does or wants to do. While this is understandable, it’s important to give the loved one sufficient freedom and to recognize when something is worth arguing over and when it’s better to let it go. For example, a caregiver may not see the sense in Aunt Pearl insisting on wearing a hat and gloves to breakfast; however, if it is important to her and it does not cause any danger or risk, it may be better to let this battle go.

Caregivers have to use what they know. That means trying to figure out why Aunt Pearl seems agitated and is getting increasingly so. Did it happen because you grabbed her elbow as she was falling and she hates to be touched? Even though it was necessary to prevent an accident, it may pay to apologize for grabbing her and acknowledge that you know she doesn’t like it.

Examine and pinpoint. Try to look objectively at situations and determine what may be triggering repeated instances of aggression. Are they consistently happening when breakfast is finished? Does it happen mostly when going for a ride in the car? Do certain smells seem to be associated with this behavior? Does she seem calmer when her nephew is in the house? Finding patterns can help to, first, avoid the trigger and, second, give the caregiver the chance to examine the trigger to see what might be objectionable about it.

Don’t let body language give you away. Often a person may use conciliatory words but their body language is stiff, stressed, or angry. Do your best to be as relaxed as possible in a confrontation.

Dealing with aggressive behavior in a person with dementia is not easy. Home caregivers will not always be successful, but tips like this can help them succeed more often.

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