As dementia progresses, it can affect a person’s behaviour and personality in a number of ways. During this period of lockdown these changes may be exacerbated or some cases even accelerated. Some of the most typical changes are increasing confusion and upset, while others might be a tendency to isolate themselves and shun personal interactions. For many people, one of the most troubling side-effects of dementia is aggression.   

Being on the receiving end of this aggression can be upsetting and frightening. It’s therefore essential that carers learn how to cope with aggression and to understand how to mitigate violent behaviour.  

What causes aggressive behaviour?  

Aggression isn’t so much a symptom of dementia, as a reaction to it. When someone living with dementia becomes confused or upset, they may be less able to moderate their emotions and more likely to react aggressively to a situation.  

Someone living with dementia might become violent or aggressive when they feel misunderstood or unheard, when they feel threatened or when they feel frustrated. Sometimes people experiencing dementia might become aggressive when they’re in pain. This is more common when the disease has made communication difficult or impossible.   

How to respond to aggressive or violent behaviour 

Before you respond to the aggressive or violent behaviour, try to take a deep breath and calm down. If you’re worked up as well, it won’t help the situation at all. In fact, an angry response might actually make things worse. While it might be difficult to relax, the calmer you can make yourself, the easier it will be to cope with the behaviour and diffuse the situation.    

Try not to show any alarm or anxiety as this could make your loved one more agitated. If you feel physically threatened, remove yourself from the space while ensuring both you and your loved one are as safe as possible. If necessary, give them a bit of space and time to calm down.  

If you think your loved one has become aggressive because they’re frustrated, acknowledge their feelings and listen to what they have to say. Feeling unheard can make people living with dementia feel helpless, and this can increase instances of aggression.   

How to prevent aggressive or violent behaviour 

If you can identify some of the triggers that cause your loved one to become aggressive or violent, this could help you to avoid them. Carefully explaining what you’re doing and why you’re doing it should help to prevent violence and aggression. It’s also a good idea to give them plenty of warning before activities like bathing, getting dresses or leaving the house. If your loved one knows that these events are coming up, they’ll be less likely to become aggressive when they happen.  

If your loved one does become aggressive, try not to take it personally. Dementia causes lots of personality changes, and your loved one won’t be able to control the emotions they feel and the words they say.  

Learn more about coping with dementia, and about the help and support that’s available in your area, by exploring our site.