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9 Key Dementia Care Techniques Dealing with Aggression

Caregiver helping a patient

Dementia is a generalized term for decline in mental abilities that are severe enough to interfere with a senior’s daily life. Dementia can cause people to act in unexpected and volatile ways, which could result in the senior acting out in an aggressive manner . Sometimes people may repeat certain questions, statements or movements. Many individuals may misinterpret what they hear or what was said to them. These kinds of reactions can result in misunderstanding, frustration and tension between the caregiver and the person with dementia. It is important to realize that the person with cognitive impairment is not intentionally trying to be difficult and that their behavior is the way the communicate.

There are two types of aggressive behaviors: verbal and physical. Examples of aggressive verbal behavior include name calling or yelling. Examples of physical behaviors are pushing or hitting. It is important to try and understand why the individual is angry, as it can occur in a moments notice with no apparent reason.

It is key to understand challenging behaviors associated with dementia, so that you can identify and address what the individual wants or needs.

Potential Responses and Explanation

  1. Rule Out Pain as the Cause
    • Pain can cause a person with dementia to act aggressively.
  2. Identify the Immediate Cause
    • Think about what happened right before the outbreak, which may have triggered the behavior.
  3. Focus on Feelings, Not Facts
    • Look for the feelings behind the words or actions.
  4. Avoid Getting Upset
    • Be positive and reassuring. Speak slowly in a soft tone.
  5. Limit Distractions
    • Examine the person’s surroundings and adapt them to avoid other similar situations.
  6. Try a Relaxing Activity
    • Use music, massage or exercise to help soothe the person.
  7. Shift the Focus
    • If a situation or activity causes an aggressive response, try something different.
  8. Take a Break
    • If the person is in a safe environment and you are able, walk away and take a moment for yourself.
  9. Ensure Safety
    • Keep yourself and the other person safe. If the person cannot calm down, get assistance from someone else and call 911 in case of an emergency.
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