What to Know About Aggression in Alzheimer’s Patients
Whether verbally or physically based, aggressive behaviors in Alzheimer’s patients are quite common. These attacks can happen suddenly, with no warning and no (apparent) trigger. Of course, knowing this doesn’t make it any easier for you to endure the brunt of their hostility or even stand by and watch it happen. However, it’s critical to realize the person you love is not acting this way on purpose. Hopefully, this can offer a small degree of comfort. Here’s what you should know about aggression in Alzheimer’s patients.
Aggression as part of Alzheimer’s can be triggered by many factors, from pain to environmental factors to poor communication, says the Alzheimer’s Association. The top cause behind all the behavioral symptoms associated with dementia involves progressive deterioration of brain cells. However, things like discomfort or inability to communicate wants and needs can make symptoms worse. Let’s discuss each one in more detail:
Physical discomfort: If your loved one is experiencing pain, it could be rooted in a urinary tract or other infection, which is quite commonly seen in patients with Alzheimer’s. They can’t always communicate what’s bothering them because even they don’t know where the pain is originating from. This stems from loss of cognitive function. Your loved one could also be very tired, hungry or thirsty. Maybe they are on medication that is causing side effects. Talk to their doctor so they can undergo testing or ask about possible interactions with their medications.
Poor communication: The inability to form the words to let you know what’s wrong can bring on aggression too. Sometimes, your loved one senses your stress and irritability, mirroring those emotions. Limit your questions and make your instructions easier to understand.
Environmental factors: When the patient has been over-stimulated by loud noises or even clutter in their room, they can start showing aggressive acts. They may very well feel lost or confused due to all the action taking place around them. You may notice that they fare better during particular times of the day. Pinpoint these and then schedule their visits and appointments during this time. Sundowning, common in elderly and Alzheimer’s patients, is characterized by big changes in how they act once the late afternoon appears. This is usually triggered by fading light, says WebMD. They could pace and yell, get upset and anxious, and become very restless, irritable, demanding and disoriented.
The National Institute on Aging suggests these causes could also be to blame for aggression in Alzheimer’s patients:
Lack of sleep
Feeling of loss, i.e., the inability to drive and experience freedom
Feeling pressured to do a task by a caregiver, such as eat or take a bath
Tips for Responding to Aggression
There are many ways you can ease the stress on your loved one and calm them down when they get agitated. For example, if they become restless, pacing and drumming their fingers, distract them with a meaningful activity, says Dementia Today. Calm them with soft, soothing music or touch. Figure out patterns in these behaviors and schedule time to be with them at those points. Try to locate a root cause that could be bringing on the aggression, like pain.
The important thing is to stay calm, refrain from getting upset, and do whatever you can to make your loved one feel taken care of and safe. For example, instead of restraining them when they want to pace, clear a path in the home to keep them safe. Check out some more helpful tips:
Engage in a relaxing activity, such as music or massage.
Try another activity if the one they are doing suddenly triggers aggressive acts.
Take lots of breaks. You need time for yourself too! Take a few minutes to walk away and remain calm.
Be positive and reassuring; talk slowly in a soft tone.
If you are having no luck calming down your loved one, ask for help from the home care team, or call 911 so they can’t hurt themselves. Always tells first responders the patient suffers from dementia so they can take the proper approach.
Join a support group. Eat a healthy diet. Take care of YOU. After all, how can you give your best to your loved one if you can’t nourish your body and soul? Seek out caregiver support so you don’t burn out.
Please don’t hesitate to reach out when you need help. Contact us today for more strategies and support.