Alzheimer’s Aggression: Causes and Management

Sadly, aggressive behavior in Alzheimer’s patients is fairly common. Over time, behavior that includes cursing, hitting, grabbing, kicking, pushing, throwing objects, scratching, screaming, biting, even making strange noises, can turn loved ones into strangers. Alzheimer’s aggression is one of the primary reasons people decide to move a loved one to a nursing home.

No one knows for certain why some Alzheimer’s patients lash out and others don’t. A recent University of Kansas study reported that the gradual loss of recognition and recall are strong predictors of aggressive behavior patterns to come. Forgetting what something is, or where it can be found, becomes more frustrating and frightening as the illness progresses. Other studies report that Alzheimer’s patients experiencing side effects like headaches, constipation, or nausea from taking certain medications and finding themselves unable to communicate their discomfort, may become increasingly agitated or combative.

There are techniques and strategies to help caregivers manage aggression in the Alzheimer’s patient:

~Validate Feelings – Tell your loved one it is okay to feel frustrated, sad, or lonely.

~ Use Gentle, Reassuring Tones – Always smile, be gentle and kind. As caregiver, your demeanor is an important sign that everything is alright.

~Stick to a Regular Routine – This helps to minimize stressful and unexpected events.

~Maintain a Sense of Humor – There will be good days and bad days. Patience, compassion, and a sense of humor help the caregiver cope with a loved one’s difficult behavior.

~Try Music – Music helps to lessen the intensity of behavior problems. Playing an old favorite song during meal, or bath, times can be calming to the patient.

~Constantly Evaluate – Learn to debrief after an incident and identify what caused the patient’s outburst. The caregiver should ask, “What can I do differently next time to avoid an aggressive reaction from my loved one?”

Perhaps the most comforting think about Alzheimer’s aggression is that, for many patients, it is a phase that will subside in varying degrees over time. However, simply waiting for Alzheimer’s aggression to pass is not an effective strategy for coping with the issue.

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