Dementia Care and Aggressive Behaviour

What causes a person with dementia to become aggressive?

Aggression can be one of the symptoms of dementia and it may be caused by a variety of factors. Here are some of the most common causes of aggression that will help you assess the reasons your loved one displays aggressive beahviour: 

  • Physical discomfort: Aggression can be a sign that your loved one is in pain or discomfort. They may be unable to communicate their discomfort effectively, so it's important to look for other signs such as grimacing or moaning.

  • Environmental factors: Changes in the environment can be confusing and overwhelming for individuals with dementia, leading to frustration and agitation. Environmental triggers include loud noises, unfamiliar surroundings, and changes in routine.

  • Medication side effects: Some medications used to treat dementia can have side effects such as confusion, agitation, and aggression. If you suspect that your loved one's medication may be contributing to their aggressive behavior, speak with their GP and ask for advice.

  • Loss of control: Dementia can cause individuals to lose their sense of independence and control, which can be frustrating and upsetting. This can lead to outbursts of aggression as a way of expressing frustration.

  • Communication difficulties: As dementia progresses, people may have difficulty communicating their needs and desires effectively. This can lead to frustration and aggression, as they struggle to make themselves understood.

How do I help a loved one with dementia who sometimes behaves aggressively?

When a person with dementia is being aggressive, it's important to redirect their attention to something calming and engaging to help diffuse the situation. Discussing techniques to reduce aggression with professionals and people who have had similar experiences can often give you reassurance: 

Here are some examples of advice from people in our Care Begins at Home Group:

  Charlotte Cooper, Home care professional

I think it depends on the individual but I find that distraction techniques can work well. Trying to turn their attention to something else, especially something they like to do. A puzzle or put some music on that they like. Maybe a change of scenery and a walk or something if it’s possible to do so".

"I think trying to reason or ‘argue’ doesn’t seem to be effective and often makes things worse and more distressing for everyone involved. Sometimes simply changing the subject can be enough. I also think trying not to take it personally is important and remembering that it’s the condition and not necessarily who they are".

  Hannah Proctor, Health Care Assistant NHS

"I have recently done a dementia course and became a dementia champion for the NHS. One of the things the admiral nurse mentioned in the course to reduce aggressive/agitated behaviour was to allow the patient to keep as much 'normal' pre-dementia routine as possible. This can then help the patient feel like they still have a sense of control and reduces the likely hood of them lashing out etc."

Other techniques to reduce a person's aggression include:

  • Stay calm: Try to remain calm and composed in the face of aggressive behavior. If you become agitated or upset, it may exacerbate the situation.

  • Identify triggers: Work with your loved one's GP to identify any potential triggers for their aggressive behavior. This may include specific activities, changes in routine, or environmental factors that can lead to outbursts.

  • Redirect attention: When your loved one becomes agitated or aggressive, try to redirect their attention to something else. For example, you may suggest going for a walk or engaging in a calming activity like reading or listening to music.

  • Validate feelings: Let your loved one know that you understand their feelings and are there to support them. This may involve acknowledging their frustration or fear, and reassuring them that they are safe and loved.

  • Create a calm environment: Try to create a calm and soothing environment for your loved one. This may involve reducing noise and visual clutter, providing comfortable seating, and minimising distractions.

  • Seek professional help: If your loved one's aggressive behavior is particularly severe or if you feel overwhelmed, consider seeking professional help. This may include working with a therapist, social worker, or another healthcare provider who specialises in treating individuals with dementia.

Activities to help distract a person with dementia who is being aggressive?

When a person with dementia is being aggressive, it's important to redirect their attention to something calming and engaging to help diffuse the situation.
Here are some activities that may help distract a person with dementia who is being aggressive:

  • Music: Listening to calming music can help soothe a person with dementia and distract them from their aggressive behaviour.

  • Exercise: Physical activity can help release tension and reduce aggression. Activities such as walking, gentle stretching, or chair exercises may be helpful.

  • Simple tasks: Engaging in simple tasks, such as folding laundry, sorting items, or arranging flowers, can provide a sense of purpose and help distract a person with dementia from their aggressive behavior.

  • Reminiscing: Reminiscing about positive experiences and memories can be comforting and may help redirect a person's attention away from their aggressive behavior.

  • Art activities: Art activities such as coloring, painting, or drawing can be calming and engaging. Simple crafts such as knitting or crocheting may also be helpful.

  • Sensory stimulation: Providing sensory stimulation, such as rubbing lotion on the person's hands or giving them a massage, can be calming and may help distract them from their aggression.

Remember, every person with dementia is unique. What works for one person may not work for another. It's important to observe your loved one's reactions and preferences to determine which activities are most effective in distracting them from their aggression.

What organisations can help me care for a person with dementia?

There are several organisations that can provide support and resources for individuals caring for someone with dementia:

  • Alzheimer's Society is a charity that provides information, advice, and support for people with dementia and their families. They offer a dementia helpline, local support groups, and online resources.

  • Dementia UK is a charity that provides specialist dementia support to families through their Admiral Nurse service. Admiral Nurses are registered nurses with expertise in dementia care who work with families to provide practical and emotional support.

  • Age UK is a charity that provides a wide range of services and support for older people, including those with dementia. They offer advice on benefits and entitlements, as well as services such as home adaptations and befriending.

  • Carers UK is a charity that provides information and support for people who are caring for someone with dementia. They offer a helpline, online forums, and local support groups.

  • National Health Service The NHS provides healthcare services for people with dementia, including diagnosis, treatment, and support. Your loved one's GP or healthcare provider can provide more information on the services available in your area.

How do other people cope?

Find out how other people have managed their loved ones' aggression by joining our discussion in Care Begins at Home. You can join in and give your personal experience or ask for further advice from our care experts or others people who care for a loved one with dementia at home.