Alzheimer’s aggression most often flares up during the later stages of Alzheimer’s disease. The person may become easily agitated, angry, and abusive – often for no apparent reason. The person may curse, hurl insults, and scream. Though verbal assaults are more common than physical assaults, a person with Alzheimer’s disease may throw things or resist care by pushing and hitting.
Why Does Alzheimer’s Aggression Occur?
No one knows for sure why Alzheimer’s patients become aggressive. Aggression may be a symptom of Alzheimer’s disease itself. It may also be a reaction to actions of others or to the environment around the person with Alzheimer’s disease.
Understand the Triggers of Alzheimer’s Aggression
Alzheimer’s aggression can flare up without warning. There may not be an obvious cause. However, often there are triggers that caregivers can look for. By knowing the triggers, you may be able to lower the frustration level of the person with Alzheimer’s disease. This can lower the number of aggressive outbursts. Here are some common triggers of Alzheimer’s aggression:
- Discomfort caused by lack of sleep, side effects from medication, or pain that the person is not able to describe
- The surrounding environment such as loud noises, busyness around the person, or clutter
- Confusion caused by being asked too many questions at once, trying to understand complex instructions, or feeling the stress of caregivers
Tips to Reduce Alzheimer’s Aggression
Once you understand the triggers for Alzheimer’s aggression, you can take steps to prevent it. Try these suggestions:
- Anticipate situations in which the person with Alzheimer’s may be uncomfortable, overstimulated, or confused.
- Avoid asking too many questions at once, giving overly complicated instructions, and speaking negatively. That way, you are less likely to confuse and agitate the person you are caring for.
- Limit the amount of loud noises, frenetic movement, and clutter.
- Don’t contradict. Those with Alzheimer’s disease see a different reality than you do. Rather than challenge that reality, sit and listen. Ask questions about it.
- Focus on the past. Alzheimer’s affects short-term memory. It’s often easier – and less stressful – for someone with Alzheimer’s disease to recall and talk about distant memories than it is for them to remember what they watched on TV the night before.
- Use memory cues. As the disease progresses, remembering to do – and how to do – everyday tasks like brushing your teeth or getting dressed becomes more difficult. Reminder notes placed in key locations can help prevent frustration.
Caregiver Stress and Alzheimer’s Aggression
It’s not easy to care for a person with Alzheimer’s disease. The burden of round-the-clock care takes an emotional toll. Add to it the frustration and sadness of watching a loved one deteriorate. It’s not surprising that caregivers may feel isolated and depressed. Left unrelieved, these feelings can lead to abusive behavior toward the person with Alzheimer’s disease, from insults to physical injury.
If you are a caregiver, do yourself and the person you care for a favor. Seek help for yourself if you notice signs of depression, anxiety, sleeplessness, exhaustion, or irritability. Taking care of yourself will help you take better care of others.
Alzheimer’s Research Foundation.
Reviewed by Jon Glass on March 13, 2012
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