Dealing with Aggression

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Aggression in individuals with Alzheimer’s dementia can be a surprising and scary development, especially the first time it happens. It is important to remain calm in the face of aggression, and to identify the cause as quickly as possible.

TIP: work backwards. Think about the recent past and what happened right before the behavior change? Take note of the time of day when behavioral changes take place to see if there is a pattern.

The National Institute on Aging lists the following potential causes of sudden aggression or irritation:

  • 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 medicines

While resolving an immediate cause of irritation (such as over-stimulation or soiled underwear) often solves the problem, there are times that the cause of irritation is unknown. Don’t panic! The best interim solution is a positive attitude. The following reminders are an excellent addition to your personal playbook.


  • Their whole day depends on how you talk to them, so make sure to use calming language and positive reinforcement.
  • Be aware of your body language, and make sure you are not acting hostile towards them.
  • Facial expressions– put a smile on your face, they will often reciprocate!
  • When you are upset, so are they. Staying calm is your best asset.
  • Touch is so important! Soft hugs, shoulder or hand rubs often relieve stress and provide comfort through connection.
  • Look them in the eyes, maintain eye contact, focus on having ‘happy eyes.’
  • Music can be a calming influence and many times redirects their thought process.
  • Be patient. Remember that irritation can and will go away with time. Together we can make a game plan for your life as a caregiver.

For more on this, visit the National Institute on Aging’s website, and watch the following video:

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