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Dealing with the Aggressive Side of Dementia

As the symptoms of dementia progress, it’s not uncommon for patients to begin to exhibit occasional aggression towards others. This can easily be one of the scariest things for family members to witness, because they are not used to their loved one behaving in this way.

Examples of this might be a loved one lashing out at a common request, such as saying “I don’t want to eat that!” or “I don’t want to take a bath!”.

The first thing to understand about instances of aggression is that they often stem from frustration and fear. Your loved one is not trying to hurt your feelings, they just don’t understand the world like they used to, and are having trouble with the loss of control over their life. Even if they lack the faculties to take care of themselves fully, they may still have their old desire for independence.

Remember: stay calm. The absolute worst thing you can do is engage in an argument with your loved one. After all, they’re not trying to start an argument with you. And this may be difficult to do, because dementia is a complex disease— sooner or later you may find yourself frustrated with your loved one. So you have to keep yourself in check about this.

Instead, try to pinpoint where the aggression is coming from. Is there a pattern for when your loved one gets upset? Think about what patterns of thought they may be having, and any other information they’ve conveyed in these episodes.

Then, it’s time to figure out what you can do to help them and decrease the occurrence of these episodes. Maybe it’s about doing more preliminary work to pre-select their options, but then giving them authority and freedom within that more limited context.

No matter how good you are at this, some level of aggression and other emotional episodes are inevitable. So, the other thing you can do is accept them, and just learn to work around them, not letting their reactions affect the rest of your day.

You probably also want to explain this to other members of your family, especially children, so they are also not taken aback when their grandma or grandpa acts in an aggressive way.

Increasing signs of aggression are one indication that your loved one may be progressing to a further stage of dementia. It’s ok to feel overwhelmed! Take our 5 Minute Home Care Quiz, to evaluate your loved one’s well-being and see if they (and you) might benefit from some extra help with care at home.

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