Dealing with Agitation and Aggression

We know some of the common signs of Alzheimer's patients are confusion, memory loss, and odd behavior, but what do you do when your loved one becomes aggressive? How does a caregiver handle situations that may become dangerous?

The National Institute on Aging (NIA), has issued a tip sheet for Alzheimer’s caregivers called Coping with Agitation and Aggression.

“Most of the time, agitation and aggression happen for a reason,” the NIA explains. “When they happen, try to find the cause. If you deal with the causes, the behavior may stop,” the NIA tip sheet counsels.

Some examples of common causes for aggressive behavior or agitation, include:
  • Pain, depression, or stress
  • Too little rest or sleep
  • Constipation
  • Soiled underwear or diaper
  • Sudden change in a well-known place, routine, or person
  • A feeling of loss—for example, the person may miss the freedom to drive
  • Too much noise or confusion or too many people in the room
  • Being pushed by others to do something—for example, to bathe or to remember events or people—when Alzheimer’s has made the activity very hard or impossible
  • Feeling lonely and not having enough contact with other people
  • Interaction of medicine
“A doctor may be able to help. He or she can give the person a medical exam to find any problems that may cause agitation and aggression. Also, ask the doctor if medicine is needed to prevent or reduce agitation or aggression,” the NIA advises.

Here are the NIA’s tips for the caregiver on how to deal with agitation and aggressive behavior:
  • Reassure the person. Speak calmly. Listen to his or her concerns and frustrations. Try to show that you understand if the person is angry or fearful.
  • Allow the person to keep as much control in his or her life as possible.
  • Coping with changes is hard for someone with Alzheimer’s. Try to keep a routine, such as bathing, dressing, and eating at the same time each day.
  • Build quiet times into the day, along with activities.
  • Keep well-loved objects and photographs around the house to help the person feel more secure.
  • Try gentle touching, soothing music, reading, or walks.
  • Reduce noise, clutter, or the number of people in the room.
  • Try to distract the person with a favorite snack, object, or activity.
  • Limit the amount of caffeine, sugar, and “junk food” the person drinks and eats.
  • Slow down and try to relax if you think your own worries may be affecting the person with Alzheimer’s.
  • Try to find a way to take a break from caregiving.
“If you have to, stay at a safe distance from the person until the behavior stops. Also try to protect the person from hurting himself or herself,” the NIA’s tip sheet concludes.

Too often caregivers can neglect their own safety because they are overwhelmed by the needs of the patient or loved one. Always remember to keep yourself and other safe first, THEN deal with the situation.

Click on the links below for the tip sheet and other articles on this subject.

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