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How to Manage Dementia and Aggressive Behavior

We’ve all experienced frustration at not being able to get a point across or feeling frustrated without fully understanding why. Those feelings of frustration and anger can be magnified and misunderstood even more in the presence of diseases like Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. An outburst can be sudden and seem irrational to anyone nearby, but in truth, it may or may not be the result of the disease.

Just as pain, tiredness, and medication side effects can cause a healthy person to feel aggravated, these can also affect those who suffer from dementia. The difference is that they cannot express themselves in the same ways that a healthy person can. They cannot resort to coping strategies that might have once worked for them. Irritation and aggression may even be present in the early stages of illness when a person comes in and out of clear thinking. They may understand, on some level, what is happening  and become frustrated at the inability to control the symptoms.

 

Check the Environment

The first thing to do when you notice aggressive or unexplained behavior is to check the surroundings. Could the person be too hot or too cold? Hunger, tiredness, thirst, inactivity, boredom, and fear can all make a person lash out in an aggressive manner. Because people who suffer the symptoms of dementia may not be able to express themselves or even fully understand what they are feeling, we have to look for logical reasons behind the behavior first. If a need is not being met, there is good chance that is the reason for the manifestation of aggressive behavior.

 

Symptoms of the Illness

Other times, aggressive behavior may be caused by the degeneration or effect of the illness on the brain. Depending on which regions are affected, a person may suffer from uncontrollable fits of aggression without cognizance or awareness of what is happening. In this way, dementia is very much a psychological illness and taking steps to control the aggression and put the patient at ease is important.

Particularly in the elderly, outbreaks of physical and verbal aggression can cause the sympathetic nervous system to spike (the fight or flight response). Heartbeat, blood pressure, and adrenaline will all feed into the outward manifestation of anger and could cause a potentially life-threatening heart attack or another high-stress side effect.

If you are not around a team of professionals who are trained to handle aggressive behavior, try:

  • Distraction with an activity that the person loves
  • Indulging in a conversation that may not make sense
  • Sympathizing with the individual, even if you don’t understand

Do not:

  • Use physical force unless necessary to protect the person from himself or to protect another
  • Try to argue

 

Finding Balance

If you are close to a person who suffers from dementia, chances are good that you will encounter some form of aggression during the course of the illness. Look for patterns in the aggressiveness to prevent future outbursts. Use regular physical activity to help the person funnel energy into a positive action. Becoming too sedentary can fuel aggressive behaviors.

Finally, even though it requires practice, patience is the best tool that any loved one or friend can develop when caring for a loved one with dementia. Take breaks when necessary and seek outside help in situations that are difficult. While feeling responsible for your loved one is admirable and honorable, you can only continue to be properly supportive when you take care of yourself first.

And remember, asking for help is not a sign of weakness. If you suspect a loved one is being abused and you need legal assistance, contact San Diego elder abuse attorney Joel Bryant today.