Alzheimer’s Aggression: What You Can Do

Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH on November 17, 2020

Sometimes, people with Alzheimer’s disease lash out for no clear reason. They may get upset or angry easily. They may curse, hurl insults, or scream. They might even throw things or resist caregivers by pushing and hitting. This kind of aggression usually starts when people get to the later stages of the disease.

No one knows for sure why it happens. Aggression may be a symptom of Alzheimer’s disease itself. It could also be a reaction when a person feels confused or frustrated.

If your loved one becomes aggressive, it’s important to remember that they aren’t doing it on purpose. There are also things you can do to make them feel better and keep outbursts from happening.

Understand the Triggers

Alzheimer’s aggression can flare up without warning. There may not be an obvious cause. But many times, there are triggers you can spot before or during a problem. Common ones include:

  • Discomfort from lack of sleep, side effects from medication, or pain that they can’t describe
  • The environment around them, including loud noises, too much activity, or clutter
  • Confusion from being asked too many questions at once, trying to understand complex instructions, or feeling the stress of caregivers

Tips to Ease Alzheimer’s Aggression

Once you understand the triggers for Alzheimer’s aggression, you can take steps to prevent it. A few things to try:

  1. Think ahead of time if a situation might make your loved one uncomfortable, overstimulated, or confused.
  2. Don’t ask too many questions at once, give instructions that are too complex, or criticize. That way, you’re less likely to confuse and upset the person you are caring for.
  3. Limit the amount of loud noises, activity, and clutter around them.
  4. Don’t argue. People with Alzheimer’s disease see a different reality than you do. Rather than challenge them about it, sit and listen. Ask questions about it.
  5. Focus on the past. Alzheimer’s affects short-term memory, so it’s often easier and less stressful for someone to recall and talk about distant memories than what they watched on TV the night before.
  6. Use memory cues. As the disease gets worse, remembering when and how to do everyday tasks like brushing teeth or getting dressed gets harder. Reminder notes around the house can help prevent frustration.

Take Care of Yourself, Too

It’s not easy to care for a person with Alzheimer’s disease, especially when they lash out at you. It’s completely normal to feel overwhelmed, isolated, or sad.

If you are a caregiver, do yourself and the person you care for a favor. Let someone know if you start to feel depressed, anxious, exhausted, or irritable. If you take good care of yourself, you can take better care of others.

WebMD Medical Reference


SOURCE: Alzheimer’s Research Foundation.

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