How to deal with aggressive behaviours related to dementia
2 September, 2020
One of the hardest parts of a dementia diagnosis is the potential for your loved one's personality to change. Not every person with dementia will become aggressive, but the dementia anger stage is a possibility. Here are some simple but effective strategies that can help you understand and manage the behaviour.
Don't take things personally
Behavioural changes among people living with dementia are very common. If your loved one reacts in a way that they never would have before developing the illness, it is not your fault.
Dementia and anger outbursts often come hand in hand. Be realistic about the fact this can be a possibility even for the most peaceful family members. All you can do is be there to support them.
Try to identify a trigger
You might be enjoying a perfectly lovely afternoon with a loved one, when suddenly things take a little turn. Be sure to look around the room or area and see if anything has changed.
Loud noises, sudden darkness, or someone entering or leaving could be a trigger for an outburst because they are frightened or confused. If someone gives them a shock, it could lead to a sudden change in mood.
Keep a calming environment
Dementia or not, many of us feel stressed in noisy, busy environments. However, for someone who does have the condition, it can be even worse.
Wherever possible, take stock of the circumstances. As we’ve already seen, you’ll soon start to think about different triggers. Calming the room can be something you do quickly, such as turning off the TV. However, in the long term, you can also take steps to make their home more dementia-friendly.
Rule out pain
Sometimes, a trigger may not come from a situation in your loved one’s mind - real or imagined - it may come from physical pain or discomfort. It’s possible that your loved one may be struggling and unable to communicate properly, leading to more frustration.
Check to see what could be bothering them. Have they taken their pain relief medication for any existing conditions? Does their chair look comfy? Could they need to use the bathroom?
A lot of mood changes related to dementia stem from being disoriented or confused. It will help if you manage to keep as calm as possible throughout, so as not to escalate the situation further or make them think there really is something to be upset about.
Take a deep breath, and make sure everyone present speaks slowly and softly. If you can stay reassuring and positive, this should comfort them.
Validate your loved one's feelings
Whether there’s an obvious cause for your loved one’s anger or not, their emotions are very real to them in the moment.
Try and figure out if they’re sad, frustrated, lonely, confused or anything else, and let them know that these are perfectly valid emotions on the human spectrum and that you’re trying to understand. If they know you’re there to help, this is sometimes all they need.
Try an activity your loved one enjoys
At Focus Home Care we are big advocates of the Montessori method for dementia care. This focuses on using activities playing to a person’s strengths and interests to help manage cognitive decline.
Our Montessori methods to encourage independence can also be used to distract from any activity which may have caused the anger or frustration in the first place. They’re far more likely to feel fulfilled by something they genuinely enjoy.
Know when it's time to give them space
We’ve all been there - sometimes we’re just upset, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. In these situations, it can help to leave the room to give them time to compose themselves, especially if they’re feeling embarrassed. They may calm down of their own accord, or even forget that there was an issue as soon as you leave.
It goes without saying that you should never leave them in unsafe circumstances. So we advise that you check in with them regularly.
Understand when there's an emergency
It’s okay to accept help when you really need it, but getting the emergency services to come can be a traumatic experience. First, see if someone they really trust can be called upon to come and help.
If all else fails and there is an element of violence that you simply cannot deal with, you can call 000. However, you must emphasise that they have dementia and ensure that the person on the phone as well as the paramedics understand this so that they don’t involve police who may get heavy handed.
You're not alone. Get support
If dementia and anger at loved ones are regularly linked in your family, seek support from your loved one’s doctor. They may be able to run tests to rule out anything else causing outbursts (for example, urine infections in people living with dementia can cause behavioural changes). They may also be able to prescribe something.
Don’t forget that your own GP can also guide you with any assistance you may need, to help with your own mental wellbeing.
Support Workers in the home can also help relieve some of the stress for you and your family, by providing respite and assistance with some of the tasks that could be frustrating your loved one.
We offer a range of dementia care services here at Focus Home Care, so you know that you’ll be in great hands.
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By making an effort to find the person behind the dementia - and any anger they may be feeling - our compassionate team is able to support your family with a variety of needs.