Tips to Manage Aggressive Behaviors in Alzheimer’s


Aggressive behaviors in Alzheimer’s can be extremely difficult to manage.

Of all of the many difficult behaviors that may arise as a result of Alzheimer’s, aggression is arguably one of the most challenging. While it can be hard to effectively manage, a good starting point is to understand that the aggressive behaviors in Alzheimer’s are manifested by the disease – not by the senior as a person. It’s also important to know that it is possible to manage these behaviors by identifying the cause behind them.

Aggression may display either physically or verbally (or both) and can come on very rapidly, with no apparent reason. Because of declined cognitive functioning, seniors with Alzheimer’s may be unable to clearly explain the discomfort or frustration they are feeling, and instead communicate through aggression. Being prepared makes it easier to identify the problem and work towards managing the aggression.

Aggression often stems from:

  • Physical pain/discomfort
  • Hunger or thirst
  • Wet or soiled underwear
  • Loneliness or depression
  • Excessive noise or confusion
  • Insufficient sleep
  • An unexpected or sudden change in routine or location
  • Too many or unknown people in the senior’s environment
  • Frustration in trying to complete a task
  • Frustration with forgetfulness
  • An overload of questions or instructions
  • Medication side effects or contraindications

How to manage aggression:

When you first notice indications that the senior may become aggressive, such as restlessness, pacing,  sleeplessness, or yelling, here are some tips to effectively respond before the behavior escalates:

  • Try to determine the cause for the senior’s agitation by thinking back to what occurred immediately prior to the behavior. The first step should always be to rule out pain as the cause.
  • Focus on the senior’s feelings rather than his or her words and actions.
  • Provide comfort and reassurance to the senior while listening and speaking in a quiet, calm voice to address his or her concerns and frustrations.
  • Stick to a routine, predictable schedule as much as possible, incorporating periods of activities and quiet time each day.
  • Make sure the senior’s most frequently used rooms in the home are filled with familiar objects, pictures and keepsakes that he or she can easily see to enhance feelings of security.
  • Keep all clutter and noise to a minimum, and refrain as much as possible from bringing unfamiliar people to the home if it upsets the senior.
  • Maintain calm, slow movements and stay relaxed around the senior. Keep from getting upset or raising your voice. Stay positive and reassuring at all times.
  • Redirect the senior to another activity. Try favorite music, light massage, or exercise to help soothe him or her, or suggest going into the kitchen for a snack or out onto the porch to sit in the sunshine.
  • Give yourself regular breaks for your own health and wellbeing. Partnering with a trusted dementia care specialist, like Visiting Care Giving Services, is a great way to schedule time away for self-care.

What to do if the senior becomes violent:

Being on the receiving end of an outburst or physically aggressive behavior is dangerous to your safety as well as the senior’s. If aggression is directed at you, maintain a safe distance by placing a large piece of furniture between you and the senior. Stay calm and speak in a quiet, soothing tone. It’s important to speak with the senior’s doctor for help if his or her aggression becomes more than you can handle, or if you’re unable to determine the cause for these behaviors.

At Visiting Care Giving Services, the leading provider of in-home dementia care in Chesterfield and surrounding areas, we’re here to help family caregivers with skilled, creative solutions to challenging behaviors like aggression. Contact us at (636) 493-9058 to request additional dementia care resources and to schedule a free in-home consultation to learn more about how we can help.