The Caregiver’s Guide on How to Manage Aggression And Anger in Dementia
Caring for a loved one is never an easy job. It’s a role that requires patience, understanding, and an endless amount of compassion. It’s even more challenging when the loved one you’re caring for is a patient with cognitive disorders such as dementia and Alzheimer’s.
As a former caregiver myself, I can assure you that while it’s a tough role, it’s equally rewarding. However, when it comes to caring for an elder with dementia, the path might come with some unique challenges. One of the most distressing aspects of this cognitive disorder – for the caregiver and the patient – is the presence of anger and aggressive behaviors.
As dementia progresses, the brain too undergoes changes that can lead to angry outbursts, aggression, and bouts of frustration. Understanding the warning signs and causes of aggressive behavior in dementia can help caregivers (and their loved ones) manage anger and aggression.
In this caregiver’s guide, we’ll be exploring the signs and causes of aggression and anger in dementia and some practical tips and strategies to help manage, cope, and reduce these behaviors in your loved ones with the cognitive disorder.
Signs of Anger in Dementia
When the one in your care is angry, they might exhibit behaviors and actions such as;
- Raising their voice
- Throwing things
- Displaying volatile behaviors such as kicking, hitting, etc.
- Screaming or shouting
- Physically attacking their caregivers
- Saying abusive language
In some cases, these might just be the warning signs of aggression in dementia patients, and at other times, you might not even see these behaviors until it’s too late. Dementia and Alzheimer’s are unpredictable disorders so you might not even know what or how your loved one may react to you or their treatment.
Understanding the Causes of Aggressive Behavior
Aggressive behavior in dementia can take many forms; verbal abuse, physically volatile, and even self-harm are just a few examples. It’s important to remember that such behavior and action are never intentional, but are rather a result of the changes occurring in the brain because of the cognitive disorder.
Some of the common causes of aggression and anger in dementia can include;
For people with dementia, one of the most challenging things is to speak up and express their needs and feelings clearly. When they are unable to express their feelings and needs, it turns into frustration and agitation. Sometimes, it’s not even the patient’s fault.
Sometimes, a person with dementia might struggle to understand their caregivers’ actions and behaviors. This can also cause conflict, and misunderstandings, which can lead to anger.
2. External triggers
People with dementia might be sensitive to loud noises, unfamiliar surroundings, and crowds. When they are exposed to these external stimuli, they might become more agitated and distressed and lash out in anger and frustration.
3. Unmet Needs
When the basic needs of the person with dementia or Alzheimer’s are unmet such as hunger, thirst, or cleanliness, they might lash out in anger and resort to aggressive behaviors to communicate their unmet needs and frustrations.
4. Fear, Paranoia, and Anxiety
People with dementia are bound to feel disoriented or threatened. Because dementia causes memory loss and impaired judgment, a patient might lash out in aggression as a defense mechanism too. The memory loss and disorientation caused by dementia might lead to fear, paranoia, anxiety, and even hallucinations which can be scary for the patient and they may act in aggression to protect themselves.
5. Poor Eating Habits
Did you know that even poor eating habits can cause behavior issues in dementia? Yes! When people with dementia lack proper nutrition, then their moods, energy, and cognitive functions can take a hit, causing them to become angry and aggressive.
6. Caregiver Stress and Burnout
Caring for a loved one with dementia can take a heavy toll on the caregiver as well. You may feel irritable, frustrated, and angry with yourself as well as with your loved one. It’s OK, though, however, your feelings might be subconsciously projected outwards, causing the one you’re caring for to pick up on them. This can also cause an aggressive reaction.
Practical Tips for Managing Aggression in Dementia
As a caregiver, it’s important to have a compassionate approach when dealing with an aggressive dementia patient. Here are some practical tips and strategies you can adopt to manage aggression and anger in dementia;
1. Identify the Triggers
Observe and figure out what triggers your loved one’s aggressive behaviors. You can keep a journal to note the patterns and incidents. This will help you figure out what makes your loved one with dementia lash out.
2. Be Calm and Positive
Make sure you create a positive and calm environment when caring for an aggressive dementia patient. This can help them feel soothed and calm when they become frustrated or angry. You can try reducing the noise levels, avoid making sudden changes, and offer familiar cues to help them calm.
3. Validate Their Feelings
It’s important to remain patient and compassionate when dealing with dementia aggression. Try to understand and acknowledge your loved one’s emotions, even if you can’t understand their words. Use simple language to talk to them and avoid contradicting them. Treat them as you would a toddler!
4. Encourage Relaxation Techniques
You can also try to help them engage in relaxation techniques and calming exercises such as listing to soft music, gentle exercises, deep breathing, etc. to keep their stress levels down and non-volatile.
5. Divert Their Attention
If you see them getting agitated, angry, or aggressive, then divert their attention and redirect their focus. You can try to engage them in play activities or something else entirely unrelated to the current topic or activity to keep them from feeling overwhelmed and frustrated.
6. Seek Professional Support
As a caregiver, you can join support groups or seek professional help when caring for someone with dementia. Support groups and healthcare professionals can offer valuable insights and other coping strategies to help manage aggressive behavior in dementia.
7. Take Breaks and Try Self-Care
Caring for a loved one with dementia can take a toll on your health and can emotionally drain you, so make sure you take regular breaks and engage in some self-care activities and recharge yourself so that you don’t fall into caregiver burnout.
It Might Not Be Easy, But Don’t Give Up
Caring for a loved one with dementia or Alzheimer’s is a challenging role that demands patience, compassion, and understanding. Aggressive behavior and anger in itself can be distressing, but in dementia, it can be even more disorienting and threatening. Understanding the signs of anger and what might trigger aggression in dementia can help you – the caregiver – manage such behaviors with compassion.
Know that you can always reach out for professional help and support when you need it. Seeking support can help you make a significant difference in your caregiving and help you smoothly navigate the uneven and unpredictable terrain that comes with cognitive disorders such as dementia and Alzheimer’s.
I hope this blog helped you understand how to manage aggression and anger in dementia. For more, you can write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment in the section below.