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The Causes of Aggressive Behavior and How to Deal With It

Posted Aug 30 2010 3:21pm
What causes aggressive behavior and how do I deal with it?If you are close to someone with Alzheimer’s disease, there may be times when you are faced with aggressive behavior. Aggression is seen in about 80% of people with Alzheimer’s disease and is a leading cause of nursing-home admission. Only by understanding what may cause this type of behavior and learning some ways to deal with it, can you try to make sure it happens less often, and feel better able to manage it when it does.Many people afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease sometimes behave aggressively. They can become verbally abusive or threatening, physically threatening (such as kicking or pushing the Caregiver), or over-reacting to a situation (becoming very agitated as a result of what seems to be a very minor setback or criticism).What causes this type of behavior?Nobody knows for sure. But there are many reasons why a person with Alzheimer’s may act aggressively. They may feel frightened or humiliated, frustrated, unable to understand a person or the situation, have lost their inhibitions because of the disease or MAY BE IN PAIN and are unable to express this fact to the Caregiver.I cannot overemphasize the possibility of a person being in pain coupled with their inability to communicate with the Caregiver as a reason for aggression. When we get to the Four Steps of Dealing with Aggressive Behavior we’ll take a closer look at pain.Dealing with aggressive behavior is not easy, and there are no simple solutions to it. However, it is possible to make it less of a problem through a gradual process of identifying what triggers the aggression, and finding some effective ways to deal with it. It is important to remember that all behavior is a form of communication. If we can establish quickly what the person is trying to communicate, it may prevent them from feeling frustrated and acting aggressively towards us.The most important advice that I can give to you as a Caregiver is: Don’t take it personally. I know that this is a hard thing to do, but you have to remember that you are dealing with a person who is manifesting the symptoms of a disease. It isn’t personal to them either.Any form of aggression can be upsetting, but the most important thing to remember is that the person is not being aggressive deliberately. The behavior may appear to be targeted at you, but that is probably just because you are the one that is there at that particular moment. The fact that the person is aggressive towards you doesn't mean that their feelings towards you have changed − just that their reactions have become different as the structure of their brain has changed.It is important to remember that the “emotion” at the root of the aggressive behavior may continue, but the person with Alzheimer’s will probably quickly forget individual incidents that are directed at you.My next post will be the Four Step Method that we use in Dr. Romeo’s In-Home Care here in Reno to handle aggressive behavior. Until then, remember what I tell my dementia technicians, nurses and even interning physicians when they work with me: “Do you see that 102 pound 83 year old female standing over there? Never forget that she can cold-cock you just as fast as I can; and I’m over six feet tall and weigh 230 pounds.”Embarrassingly enough…it’s happened to me.Dr. Ken Romeo is known as "The Alzheimer's Doc." He owns and operates an in-home senior health care company that specializes in Alzheimer's care in Reno, Nevada.
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