4 Ways to Handle Aggressive Dementia Behavior

by | Oct 15, 2018 | Alzheimer's Disease, Dementia, Dementia Behaviors



When most people think of dementia, they think of memory loss. Unfortunately, many families experience the uglier side of dementia.

“Dad would blow up. Sometimes he would throw things.”

“Mom was always so ladylike. Now she curses, spits pulls hair and even bites her caregivers. It’s no wonder we can’t keep good help very long.”

There are many theories why this happens to some people.  But the truth is we just want it to stop! And we don’t really care what the cause is. Unless the cause can be fixed that is.

Here are a few ideas that will help. While there is no one solution that will solve all of your problems these suggestions can and will make life easier for the caregiver and the one being cared for.

1. Prepare in Advance


Know what is common behavior in your loved one. When something seems out of the ordinary it may help you to solve a problem. And that could be good before it gets out of control.  Someone with dementia may not be able to communicate their needs verbally. It is your job to pay close attention to non-verbal clues. Is Mom in pain?  Does Dad always get cranky when we serve a particular food? Is shower time a source of frustration that leads to anger?


Refusing to Take a Bath

Aggressive Dementia behaviors


“My mother in law suddenly began refusing to take a shower. She screamed and pulled the caregiver’s hair. My husband tried to reason with her but to no avail. Finally, I figured out what was wrong. At the assisted living where she lived, they would always try to bathe her on Wednesday. All of the residents got their hair washed at this time. The problem was, I brought Pat for her weekly hair appointment on Tuesday. She was upset because they ruined her beautiful new hairdo.”


It is important that caregivers know what is going on in a person’s life. A small environment like Sycamore Creek Ranch allows caregivers to really get to know their residents. As such they are able to ward off an approaching storm of emotions.


A Creative Solution for An Afternoon Outburst


John has outbursts in the late afternoon. Likewise, he becomes very confused. And he is seen walking around feeling like he needs to finish his work at the office. He was a CEO for a large company. So around 4 PM, a caregiver will get him engaged. They will go to the office together and she will ask him to look at and sign papers. They will walk around the building so he can engage with other ‘employees” Once she feels the storm has passed she will tell him that they will take care of the rest of the “work’ in the morning. And he can go on to dinner now. What used to be a struggle for John and his caregivers has been solved!

2.The Importance of Routines

aggressive dementia behavior


The frustration of losing control of your life is something many people with dementia experience. Furthermore, fear of the unknown is also a source of stress. When someone has lost control over their physical abilities, or cognitive abilities, their world gets filled with more and more unknowns. This can be scary!  And when a day is filled with unscheduled and unpredictable activities confusion and fear set in. This can be a recipe for anxiety and dementia outbursts.

A Consistent Routine Helps Both Seniors and Caregivers.

When everyone knows what to expect there’s no need to worry about what’s coming next. And this can alleviate the anxiety that dementia patients experience.  Have a set time for everyday activities like waking, bathing, dressing, eating. Also for things like setting the table for dinner. This helps to prepare dementia patients for dinnertime. Furthermore, these routine actions also become part of their body memory.

Having a routine helps seniors to predict and plan their day. This provokes a feeling of safety and calm. Studies also show that having regular daily routines can help seniors to sleep better.  Let’s face it, who isn’t in a better mood when they have a good nights sleep.

3.Environment Matters

Aggressive dementia behaviors- environment matters

Lighting, colors, sounds and smells all work together to create an environment. And this environment can create a sense of calm or one of agitation.  So, when looking for a memory care facility pay attention to how the place is arranged. Is the layout easy for a senior to navigate? How do you feel when you enter the space?

There are many studies on how different colors can affect someone with dementia.  Also, lighting is also very important to consider.  Remember, seniors may also be struggling with their vision. As such a light and bright environment can help a senior with dementia.  While Natural light is the best source it may not be available. So if a room has little natural light coming in ensure lighting is bright enough to make items easily seen. Be careful of the positioning of lamps and overhead lights. Pools of light and dark can cause shadows.  And this can be frightening to someone with dementia and cause distress.

4. Prepare Your Local Emergency Responders

Aggressive dementia behaviors

If your loved one is prone to aggression in stressful situations it is important to alert your local emergency responders. Because letting responders know that your loved one suffers from dementia will help how they respond. The last thing you want is for your loved one to be dragged off to jail because he hit an officer or a fireman. If emergency responders show up at your house, something is going on that is already stressful. As such dementia behaviors may rear their ugly head.

Before a crisis happens, call the non-emergency number for police, fire, and emergency responders. Likewise, ask if they can “flag” your address or phone number to let responders know that your older adult has dementia. Make sure you give them suggestions about how to best de-escalate an aggressive situation. And also how to provide protection for all involved.  Most emergency personnel have not been trained how to deal with someone with dementia. This is slowly changing as training programs are starting to be offered. Assume however that your local office may have no training. Ask if they would be interested in learning how to help people with dementia. If the response is positive put them in touch with the Alzheimer’s Association or someone else who offers training in your area.

Learn more:

Discover what Proactive Resident Care Means

Early Onset Dementia- Not A Mid Life Crisis




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