3 Aggressive behaviour

Sometimes a person with dementia can become aggressive – verbally or physically – to those around them. Unfortunately, loved ones and carers are the ones that most often have to deal with this. Seek advice and support from the specialists involved in care or ask your GP if they think a referral to the Community Mental Health Team might be needed.

After the incident

  • Carry on as normal: draw a line under what happened and try not to bring it up again. Your relative may have forgotten what happened and could become upset or distressed if you mention it later. Focus on your relative, not the behaviour that they displayed.
  • Don’t bottle things up: if you are hurt, angry or upset it might help to talk through your feelings with others – for example, a health professional, family member, counsellor or dementia support worker.
  • Don’t take it personally: try to remember that the person is probably trying to communicate a need and does not intend to hurt you.
  • Look for the cause: think about what may have triggered the behaviour. Remember that the condition is likely to make your relative think irrationally, so try to put yourself in their shoes. What might have made them feel threatened or upset? You might need to make changes to how you approach the situation.
  • Take a breather: before you react, take a deep breath, step back to give the person space and take some time. If things aren’t going well, you may need to leave the room until you have both calmed down, then try again.
  • Try to stay calm and avoid confrontation: shouting or losing your temper could make the situation worse. Try not to show any fear or anxiety, as this may increase the person’s agitation.
  • Don’t attempt physical contact: if your relative is being angry or aggressive, this probably isn’t the best time to initiate any physical contact. Even a friendly gesture (like a hug) at this point could be misinterpreted as threatening behaviour. Unless it is absolutely necessary, avoid closing in or trying to restrain someone, as this can make things worse.
  • Listen: reassure your relative that you are listening and are trying your best to understand how they feel and what they want to communicate.
  • Speak gently: try to explain calmly why you are there and that you are trying to help.
  • Distract: if your relative still seems angry, try to distract his or her attention to diffuse the situation.