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Managing and Addressing Violent Behavior

Alzheimer's disease can affect people in different ways. Some people may start having problems with their thinking. But others may become more agitated and violent as the disease worsens.1-3

Doctors think anger and violent behavior may result from Alzheimer's disease itself. They also think it might be a reaction to the changes Alzheimer's creates in the brain.1-3

Risk factors for violent behavior in Alzheimer's

Studies have shown that some things increase the likelihood of someone exhibiting violence:4

  • Those with a history of aggression or violence are more likely to act out as their Alzheimer's disease worsens.
  • People with more severe symptoms, like delusions or hallucinations, are at higher risk.
  • Those who live in an unsafe or violent environment are also more likely to become violent.

There is no sure way to prevent violence in Alzheimer's disease. But managing certain risk factors can help minimize the likelihood of aggressive behavior.4

Coping with anger and agitation

The most important thing is to keep you and the person with Alzheimer's disease safe. Some tips include:1-3,5

  • Never leave the person with Alzheimer's disease alone. If you must leave, make sure there is someone else nearby who can help if needed.
  • Do not put the person with Alzheimer's disease in a situation that could be dangerous. For example, keep them away from busy streets and put away sharp objects.
  • Avoid stressful situations. If the person with Alzheimer's disease gets agitated, try to calm them down with words and reassuring touch.
  • Do not argue with the person with Alzheimer's disease. If they become angry, walk away and return when they have calmed down.
  • Keep a routine. Changes in routine can be confusing and upsetting for the person with Alzheimer's disease.
  • Make sure the person is getting enough sleep. Fatigue can make the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease worse.
  • Exercise can help reduce stress and improve mood. Encourage movement every day.
  • A proper diet is important for people with Alzheimer's disease. A healthy diet can help reduce stress and improve mood.

Some medicines can help reduce the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. These drugs can help improve mood and make it easier to cope with the disease.

Staying safe

Protect yourself and others if the person with Alzheimer's is angry or agitated. If you need to, stay away until the person stops being aggressive. Try to also protect the person from hurting themselves.5

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After things settle

Do not blame or punish the person for their actions. The person may have forgotten what happened. Do not act like they did something wrong if they cannot remember what happened. If you do, they might become violent again because they are confused.5

Focus on the person, not what they are doing. Some people might still feel upset or distressed even after the anger or agitation has passed. This can confuse them, especially if they have forgotten what happened or what they were responding to. Be as reassuring as possible during this time.5The Alzheimer's Association offers a variety of resources for caregivers. These resources include a 24/7 helpline (1-800-272-3900) and an online community.

The National Institute on Aging also has a website with information and resources for caregivers.

Managing violent and aggressive behavior is difficult. Hurtful words can quickly escalate. Share your experience and perspective on mitigating this behavior.

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