When a patient with dementia or Alzheimer’s starts to develop aggressive behaviors, it can be distressing for both the patient and their caregivers. It’s important to remember that their behavior is likely due to the progression of the disease and is not a reflection of the person’s character. Here are some tips on how to deal with combative dementia patients.
Identify the Potential Cause of Their Aggression
Dementia can cause a person to become combative, agitated, and confused. While outbursts may seem to come out of nowhere, it’s important to try and identify the cause of their aggression to try and avoid repeating these challenging situations in the future. When your elderly patient starts to get upset, ask yourself:
- Do they have a need that isn’t being met, and they are struggling to communicate it with you?
- Are they in some form of pain or discomfort?
- Do they feel confused in an environment that is new or feels unfamiliar?
- Are they afraid of or unable to recognize you as a caregiver at the moment?
- Are they uncomfortable with the current task you’re trying to have them perform?
Don’t Take It Personally and Remain Calm
Feeling upset when your elderly patient is combative is understandable, especially if they physically or verbally attack you. However, it’s important not to take their behavior personally. Remaining calm will help you stay in control and diffuse the situation.
Take the Time to Reassure Them
When an elderly dementia patient starts to get aggressive, take the time to reassure them. Let them know that you’re there to help them, that they’re safe, and that everything will be okay.
Don’t Force Them to Do Anything They Don’t Want to Do
This can be challenging as a caregiver, especially when trying to help your patient with something like bathing or getting dressed. If they’re uncomfortable with the specific task, redirect their attention towards an object or activity that brings them happiness and comfort. Once they’ve calmed down, delicately bring up the task again.
Communicate Effectively to Ensure They Understand
Combative behavior can sometimes be the result of a misunderstanding. It’s important to communicate exactly what you’d like them to do or what you’re about to do to ensure that you’re both on the same page. If you feel that they’re confused or are having trouble understanding you, try explaining your intentions in a different way that will help them understand.
Establish a Rapport at the Beginning of Each Visit
This may seem obvious, but sometimes you may feel inclined to begin physically caring for your elderly patient immediately upon arrival. This may be the case if you’ve already met with them several times or if you’re in a hurry. In either case, try to spend 3-5 minutes engaging in casual conversation to ensure that your patient is comfortable and knows who you are before you begin.
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