Dementia & Spousal Safety: How to Manage Aggressive Behavior

Dementia & Spousal Safety: How to Manage Aggressive Behavior

Considering the changes one goes through as their dementia progresses – the loss of memories, confusion, sensory problems, diminishing abilities, the struggle to communicate – it’s no wonder that aggression is a common response to their ever-changing world. For the spouse of a loved one with memory loss, dealing with aggressive behavior can be emotionally trying and, in some cases, dangerous for both partners’ safety. If your spouse becomes violent, learning how to manage their aggression is vital. 

“Although physical violence is not as common as verbal aggression, the situations it causes may be some of the worst a caregiver could experience,” says Polly West, Executive Director at Bridgepointe at Ashgrove Woods, a Christian Care Community in Nicholasville, KY. “When a loved one with memory loss becomes upset, they may try hitting, biting, scratching or throwing objects at their caregiver. Because the person isn’t in their right mind, it can be very difficult to calm them the way we would a healthy individual. Discovering what’s causing the aggression, and developing a way to calm your loved one down as soon as possible, takes patience and understanding about their disease.”

What Triggers Aggression in Loved Ones with Dementia? 

Before you can manage your spouse’s aggression, you need to understand what could be causing it. Depending on the progression of their disease, your spouse likely won’t be able to clearly communicate what’s bothering them. However, being a good observer and learning about the common symptoms of dementia can help you narrow down the possible causes, which could include:

  • Physical Factors – Pain, illness or discomfort; side effects from medication; poor eyesight or hearing; fatigue from inadequate sleep
  • Environmental Factors – Overstimulation from noise, light or crowds; time of day; changes in routine
  • Social & Emotional Factors – Isolation or lack of contact with others; boredom from inactivity; frustration; attempting to hide their condition; distrust of a caregiver
  • Psychological Factors – Hallucinations, delusions and resulting suspicion; feeling threatened; depression
  • Cognitive Factors – Trouble interpreting the world around them; misunderstanding what others say; inability to accomplish familiar tasks

How to React to Aggressive Behavior

Memory care experts such as those at the Alzheimer’s Association suggest guidelines for responding to a loved one’s aggressive behavior in ways that will help avoid a violent or dangerous situation. If your spouse becomes upset and aggressive towards you, experts advise following these steps: 

  1. Identify the Cause – Try to determine what your loved one is reacting to. What happened right before they became aggressive or violent? Is something different in their environment? Do you notice any patterns during the times they get upset? 
  2. Back Down – Often, a person with dementia will become agitated when someone tries to make them do something they don’t want to do. Unless the situation is serious, back down from your request. Never try to force your loved one to do something when it upsets them. 
  3. Stay Calm – Try not to shout back at an aggressive person with dementia, as this will probably only distress them even more. Use a calm tone of voice as you speak to them. Often, they will mirror your calm demeanor and start to relax.
  4. Use Distraction – Aggressive behavior may wane as the person with dementia loses track of why they are upset. As a form of distraction from the trigger, change the subject or scenery or try to engage them in an activity they enjoy. Sometimes their favorite song can ease their mind.
  5. Avoid Restraint – Try to avoid using physical force or restraint when your loved one is angry. Determine whether either of you are in danger and, unless the situation is severe (e.g., they are trying to harm you or themselves), use other methods to calm them down.
  6. Call 911 – In serious cases, calling 911 may be a necessary last resort, especially if your loved one has become violent and one of you is hurt. Also, if your loved one is acting violent because they feel threatened, seeing a person in uniform may help them feel safe as well as mitigate the scene.

In regards to all symptoms of dementia, it helps to remember that your loved one is acting a certain way because of their disease. They are struggling to live in a world that ceases to make much sense to them, and aggression might be their instinctual way to defend themselves. Don’t take what your loved one says or does during an episode of dementia-driven aggression personally. Remind yourself that it is not your loved one acting this way, but the dementia instead.

It also helps to remember that you are not alone. Other spouses are experiencing similar struggles and learning to cope with aggressive loved ones as well. Joining a support group for caregivers of loved ones with dementia can help you deal with the challenges you face.

Support When You Need It the Most

If you ever feel as if you don’t know where to turn as you care for your spouse, the experts at Bridgepointe at Ashgrove Woods are here to offer guidance and support. “Our memory care team has years of experience dealing with difficult symptoms and behaviors in dementia patients,” says West. “We can help you learn new techniques for calming your loved one and preventing aggressive triggers. Or, if you just need a friendly ear, we’re glad to support you in your role as a caregiver and can even suggest further resources that might be helpful for you.”

Contact Bridgepointe at Ashgrove Woods today to learn more about dementia care and dealing with challenging behaviors.

Live Life to the Fullest at Bridgepointe at Ashgrove Woods

Bridgepointe at Ashgrove Woods is a Christian Care Community offering assisted senior care, memory care and adult day services. Located in Brannon Crossing, one of central Kentucky’s most desirable areas, Bridgepointe was designed to help families grow closer as they grow older.

At Bridgepointe, residents enjoy the privacy and dignity of living in their own apartment as well as the peace of mind that comes from the support and assistance of a special team of caregivers. In short, we help our residents live life to its fullest.

Our community is designed to promote activity, interaction, socialization and enjoyment. We offer a variety of engaging activities daily, from yoga and tai chi to gardening and arts and crafts. At Bridgepointe, there’s never a dull moment and always something to do! 

Discover a rich and fulfilling lifestyle combined with personalized care and support delivered by a team of experienced professionals … all within a secure, elegantly appointed community.

We invite you to visit today and discover how Bridgepointe at Ashgrove Woods can change your life for the better

To learn more, contact us today!